Gov. Wolf recommends high school sports be delayed until Jan. 1

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Thursday, August 6, 2020 | 11:05 AM


With fall sports in the balance, will the PIAA treat Gov. Tom Wolf’s recommendation as a suggestion or a mandate?

Wolf’s administration wants all youth sports — interscholastic and recreational — postponed until January, a request that jeopardizes football, soccer and other high school sports days before they’re scheduled to start. A statement released Thursday by the departments of health and education described the delay as a “strong recommendation and not an order or mandate,” but the PIAA has faithfully followed Wolf’s lead throughout the corona­virus pandemic.

If that continues, fall sports could be pushed to the spring or canceled.

The PIAA board held an impromptu meeting Thursday but delayed action until Friday. Bob Lombardi, executive director of the PIAA, declined to comment until then.

In a statement, the PIAA said: “Gov. Wolf issued a statement of strongly recommending no interscholastic and recreational sports until Jan. 1. We are tremendously disappointed in this decision. Our member schools have worked diligently to develop health and safety plans to allow students the safe return to interscholastic athletics.”

The PIAA wasn’t informed of Wolf’s plans until he revealed them at a news conference Thursday morning. PIAA administrators later had a phone conversation with Wolf’s staff and urged the governor to reconsider his position.

“We were not successful,” PIAA associate executive director Melissa Mertz said.

That leaves the PIAA in an unenviable spot: agree with Wolf and postpone fall sports, reversing a decision the PIAA board made last week, or allow sports to continue against the advice of the state’s health department.

Wolf left the decision to school administrators and school boards.

“We’ve worked so hard to modify fall sports to safely occur, we believe,” WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman said. “To be put in this position, we’re disheartened by that.”

The governor’s recommendation applies to team and individual sports, as well as school and non-school teams. Conditioning could continue but competitions, intramural play and scrimmages should not, according to Wolf’s recommendation.

The guidance doesn’t apply to college or professional sports.

Wolf first revealed his recommendation at the very end of a press conference Thursday morning with state Secretary of Health Rachel Levine.

Asked about the current restrictions on high school fans, Wolf said: “The guidance is we should avoid any congregate settings. And that means anything that brings people together is going to help that virus get us. We ought to do everything we can to defeat that virus.

“So any time we get together for any reason, that’s a problem, because it makes it easier for that virus to spread. So the guidance from us — the recommendation — is we don’t do any sports until Jan. 1.”

His comments came at a time when PIAA sports appeared on track for the fall. The PIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee unanimously agreed that sports could be played safely when it met in late July. With that advice, the PIAA board announced last week that fall sports would start on time without delay.

Heat acclimatization for football is scheduled to start Aug. 10. Practices for all other fall sports begin Aug. 17.

Republican state legislators criticized Wolf’s recommendation.

“Gov. Wolf is completely off the rails,” said Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania House Republican Caucus.

“After repeatedly saying school reopening decisions should be left to local school districts, after the PIAA paved the way for sports to safely resume, after his own Secretary of Health said earlier this week that guidance for PIAA events would be forthcoming, the governor today issued another unilateral ‘recommendation’ — made without any advance notice or consultation with the General Assembly — that is devastating for student athletes, parents, and communities.”

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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