Football coaches fear postponement, transfers could doom City League

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Sunday, August 23, 2020 | 11:30 PM


City League football coaches are worried about losing their season, but they’re also fearful they could lose the entire league.

“If we don’t play football this year, we won’t have City League football in a couple of years,” Allderdice coach Jerry Haslett said.

Pittsburgh Public Schools’ administration recommended earlier this month that fall sports be postponed over covid-19 concerns, a decision that left coaches and athletes in limbo. They hope to learn this week whether they’ll have a football season this school year.

Their worst-case scenario is a cancellation.

“I’ve been coaching in the City since the mid-90s, and it would destroy us,” Brashear coach Don Schmidt said. “We may not come back from it, to be honest with you.”

The PIAA cleared football teams to begin heat acclimatization statewide Monday, but City League teams won’t start until the district makes its decision. The district scheduled an online hearing for 6 p.m. Monday.

The school board meets Wednesday.

“We’re just hoping for a season in any capacity,” Schmidt said. “We understand both ends of what’s going on. We want our kids to be safe. But it’s a real tough situation for us because we don’t want our kids to go anywhere else.”

Head coaches from the six City League football teams discussed their situation during a video conference call Sunday night. WPIAL schools are moving ahead with their football seasons, so there’s growing concern that a number of City League athletes will transfer elsewhere.

Haslett, who’s also an athletic director at Allderdice, provided a few options for a delayed season. One scenario starts the season in mid-September. Another has season openers the first week of October. A spring season starting in March was a third option.

“As long as they get these kids on the field, that’s my biggest thing,” said Donta Green, who coaches Westinghouse, the defending City League champion. “It would be heartbreaking for a lot of our seniors and juniors not to have a season this year. We’ll take whatever we can get.”

Green agreed that a lost season could doom the City League.

“Especially if everyone around us was playing and we’re not,” Green said. “I think we would see a large number of transfers. Kids would go play at nearby schools that have football and it would be hard to get those kids back.”

Pittsburgh Public Schools will start classes exclusively online this fall. PPS superintendent Anthony Hamlet revealed plans to postpone fall sports in an Aug. 6 statement.

“While we understand the valuable role strong athletic programs contribute to our overall student experience, our number one priority is student and staff safety,” Hamlet said. “We are confident the postponement of fall sports is the best decision, but we understand that this is disappointing news for some of our students and staff. We are exploring the possibility of an alternate schedule if and when students return for an in-school blended model.”

The statement provided no timeline.

Schmidt and Green said their teams will continue to hold voluntary out-of-season workouts. Haslett shut down Allderdice’s workouts last week.

“They can’t tell us if the kids are going to have a season,” Haslett said. “I want to know if we’re going to play something. I don’t care when. Tell me when. If you can’t give the kids that, we’re done.”

The City League made its decision to postpone before Gov. Tom Wolf strongly recommended youth sports be delayed until at least January. The PIAA board ignored that guidance Friday and allowed fall sports to continue as scheduled.

However, the PIAA board also laid groundwork for an alternate fall season in the spring.

If needed, that alternate season could be available to the City League, the Philadelphia Public League and other groups that don’t compete now. Pittsburgh Public Schools athletic director Karen Arnold on Friday said that option would be considered.

“It’s sad,” Haslett said. “I’ve got at least 10 kids who could be going to college. You can’t leave these cats hanging.”

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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