Gov. Wolf stands behind fall sports shutdown but says ‘I’m just one person’

Thursday, August 13, 2020 | 3:06 PM

Gov. Tom Wolf said he’s unlikely to change his recommendation to delay youth sports, no matter what the PIAA says, but described his role as “one person that has an opinion.”

Wolf, speaking Thursday at a news conference, said he hadn’t read the letter PIAA administrators sent him earlier in the week. The governor wants interscholastic and recreational youth sports postponed until at least Jan. 1 to prevent potential coronavirus spread.

The PIAA letter asked him to reconsider.

“This is my recommendation,” Wolf said of the delay. “I also recommended this summer that Pennsylvanians avoid going to the Jersey Shore. I’m sorry. That’s my recommendation. You do what you want, and school districts are going to do what they want. This is my recommendation. It was then and still is.”

Wolf didn’t waver when asked what information the PIAA could provide to change his mind.

“I’m not sure what they could say that would make me change my sense of what I believe is the right thing to do,” Wolf said. “They have the decision to make on their own. I recognize that I’m just one person. Maybe I’m governor, but I’m one person that has an opinion on what we ought to do here.”

That leaves the PIAA facing a dilemma with fall sports scheduled to start in 10 days. The PIAA had hoped to persuade Wolf to change his recommendation before its board reconvenes Aug. 21, but the governor’s comments Thursday made that seem more unlikely.

The PIAA already had a meeting scheduled with Wolf’s staff for Friday afternoon. The conference call wasn’t expected to include the governor.

If Wolf’s recommendation doesn’t change, the PIAA could choose to delay sports until January or move forward without the support of the governor and his administration.

“That’s to be determined based on the next week of activity,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said Thursday. “It seems to change from day to day. He is the governor. We respect his position. We respect him. We would like his support.”

Despite Wolf’s comments, Lombardi said he remained optimistic.

Speaking in York alongside state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, Wolf defended his youth sports recommendation, saying it put education ahead of athletics.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure that we get our kids back to learning,” Wolf said. “I don’t see how transporting whatever-age population back and forth across county borders is going to help in the effort to mitigate this disease and get us back to learning. So let’s put (sports) on pause.”

Levine was asked to clarify the data used to support the youth-sports shutdown after citing only out-of-state cases Monday. Many recreational sports leagues competed throughout the spring and summer, and PIAA teams returned to offseason workouts in June, but Levine said Thursday there’s little data about sports’ impact on covid-19 spread in Pennsylvania.

“We don’t have a lot of granular data or quantitative data from the contact tracing,” she said. “There hasn’t been that much activity. There’s been some but not like we see in the fall. Kids aren’t back at school and not in school sports, so I can’t have the data about that until it would happen.”

Levine pointed to the decisions made by college conferences to shut down fall sports and said the recommendation from Wolf’s administration was based on “the same data about the contagiousness of the virus (and) about the impact on children.”

Wolf said he also relied on his experience as the parent of former PIAA athletes, recalling the clusters of cross country runners during races and the spectators gathered near the finish line.

“If I were setting up priorities for my family, I think I would put education up there above cross country,” he said.

Wolf’s comments about cross country could dim hopes he would support some low-risk sports this fall, if not football or soccer. Lombardi said Thursday: “Our hope is to get as many sports for as many students as possible.”

The PIAA sponsors cross country, football, field hockey, golf, soccer, girls tennis, girls volleyball and water polo in the fall.

Asked about allowing low-contact sports, Wolf said: “I keep an open mind. I made a recommendation. It’s the recommendation I would make to my wife, the two of us, if we made a decision on our daughters. I think that’s the way we ought to be thinking as Pennsylvanians.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at

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