Health department restrictions could force Allegheny County football teams elsewhere

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Wednesday, August 19, 2020 | 5:07 PM


If there’s a high school football season this fall, teams from Allegheny County might play home games at stadiums in neighboring counties.

That’s a possibility if the Allegheny County Health Department maintains its strict 50-person limit on outdoor gatherings, North Allegheny athletic director Bob Bozzuto said Wednesday. Bozzuto, president of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Directors Association (PSADA), has contacted county health officials for guidance.

“We’re hoping that number increases,” Bozzuto said. “Otherwise, Allegheny County schools can’t play a home game.”

Small-school football games typically have more than 50 players, not counting coaches, trainers, officials and other game-day personnel. Some large schools have close to 80 players or more on one roster.

As a result, teams might look elsewhere for an empty stadium to borrow.

“That’s one of the things we’d look at,” Bozzuto said. “We’re going to do whatever we need to do, but I don’t know if anyone would allow us.”

The WPIAL has requested a variance from the county health department to increase the number of individuals allowed at interscholastic contests, WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman said.

ACHD officials weren’t available for comment.

The governor has a 250-person limit on outdoor gatherings, but Allegheny County ordered a strict 50-person limit locally when covid-19 cases increased in early July.

“We are trying to work with officials to increase that to the state recommendation (of 250),” Scheuneman said. “I’m hopeful they will understand the situation. That these environments will have people spread out.”

If the ACHD restrictions remain, schools have limited options.

“They could look for venues outside of Allegheny County,” Scheuneman said. “If the opposing school is outside of Allegheny County, they could request to play at their facility instead of the home facility.”

Football season isn’t guaranteed to start next month, so schools haven’t made any adjustments yet.

The PIAA board will decide Friday whether to allow fall sports to continue despite opposition from Gov. Tom Wolf. The governor wants all youth sports shut down until at least Jan. 1 to prevent potential coronavirus spread.

Football teams are scheduled to scrimmage Sept. 3-5. The first games would be Sept. 10-11.

The ACHD limit would also impact soccer but to a lesser degree. For schools with large rosters, junior varsity and varsity players wouldn’t all be allowed on the sidelines together.

“We’d have to limit the number of kids who are inside the stadium,” Bozzuto said.

The other outdoor fall sports are cross country, field hockey, golf and girls tennis.

An increase in the 50-person limit still wouldn’t let family, friends or fans attend games. The governor banned spectators at all interscholastic athletic events, a restriction the PIAA has asked his administration to loosen.

Bozzuto took part in a Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee hearing Tuesday focused on PIAA sports. The bipartisan group of state lawmakers heard from PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi and other select school administrators from across the state.

“My point yesterday was: ‘How can you say athletics are not part of the academic program?’” Bozzuto said. “There are many lifelong lessons that are learned through sports.”

With football openers less than a month away, Bozzuto said he’s hopeful ACHD will relax its 50-person limit some time soon.

“(Covid-19) numbers are down, so are they going to do it?” he said. “If they don’t, we’re going to be restricted.”

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 charlan@triblive.com.

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