Pittsburgh’s City League teams can start fall sports without delay

Wednesday, August 26, 2020 | 5:08 PM

There will be City League sports this fall.

The school board for Pittsburgh Public Schools voted unanimously Wednesday against a proposal that would’ve postponed sports until the district resumes in-person classes. The school district’s administration recommended the delay earlier this month, but the 9-0 vote reversed that decision, allowing sports to begin almost immediately.

Athletic director Karen Arnold said she was working to establish new start dates for practice, scrimmages and regular-season contests.

“We want to treat our students, our athletes, our cheerleaders, our dance teams, our bands, just like they’re treated out in the suburbs and give them an opportunity to participate,” said board member Bill Gallagher, a former football coach at Perry.

The WPIAL already moved forward with its fall sports.

City League coaches, athletes and parents had voiced their concerns in recent days, fearful that their seasons would be pushed to the spring or canceled entirely over covid-19 risks.

Gallagher said mitigation plans are already in place.

“Our coaches in the city are outstanding,” he said. “They do not get enough credit where credit is due. I’m sure they will follow all protocols. … If they don’t follow the protocols, if they break the rules, then their program gets shut down. But we have to provide the opportunity and give our kids hope that there’s going to be a season.”

Teams won’t start heat acclimatization or practice until students complete their physicals and preseason concussion testing. Arnold said she would speak with faculty managers, school-based athletic directors, district administrators and the director of health services before announcing a start-up timeline.

“We’ve got to make sure we have all the pieces in place so that physicals can be done efficiently and successfully,” Arnold said.

Several board members said they’d originally favored a postponement but changed their minds.

“I was of the opinion that we should not go forward with fall sports,” board member Sala Udin said, “until I heard the impassioned pleas from student-athletes and from their parents and from other community members.”

Board member Terry Kennedy called it a difficult decision.

“I’ve said in the past there’s no way I could support moving forward with sports at this time, but then I play devil’s advocate,” Kennedy said. “While I really do not think we should have them, I do realize this is a voluntary participation. No student is required to participate.”

The City League sponsors football, cross country, golf and girls volleyball in the fall. It also has a number of teams competing in the WPIAL as associate members in soccer, field hockey and girls tennis.

Arnold said she’d already communicated with WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman about adjusting the schedules so City League teams can continue to compete in the WPIAL.

Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent Anthony Hamlet had announced the sports postponement in an Aug. 6 statement. That same day, Gov. Tom Wolf recommended that all interscholastic sports be postponed until at least January.

The PIAA board voted last week to ignore the governor’s recommendation and move forward with fall sports as scheduled. Arnold was one of five PIAA board members who voted against starting fall sports, but said Wednesday she’s pleased for City League athletes.

“As I’ve said before publicly, I’m an athlete. I want to see kids play,” Arnold said. “I just want it to be in a safe manner so that our kids and our staff members are protected.”

Pittsburgh Public Schools solicitor Ira Weiss was asked Wednesday whether playing sports during the pandemic would cause any legal liability for the district.

He said the risks were minimal.

“I believe that so long as the district abides by the guidelines and orders of the various governmental agencies — including also the Centers for Disease Control — it can operate with some assurance there will be no liability,” Weiss said.

City League football coaches had expressed worries that canceling their season could ultimately cause the entire league to fold. The City League has only six football teams: Allderdice, Brashear, Carrick, Perry, University Prep and Westinghouse.

Allderdice football coach and athletic director Jerry Haslett said the board made “the right decision for our kids.” He’d already heard from players excited to restart team workouts after shutting them down last week.

”Everybody has to follow the protocols of being as safe as possible,” Haslett said. “We were already doing that. Now we’re getting back after it again tomorrow, baby.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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