Kiski School will adopt bubble strategy to play sports

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Saturday, August 15, 2020 | 7:07 PM


The NBA and NHL successfully used an isolation “bubble” to restart their sports, and now Kiski School will take that idea to the high school level.

Athletes at the private, all-boys boarding school in Saltsburg will compete this fall under a plan that involves team-specific dorms and on-campus covid-19 testing, athletic director Chris Spahn said. The school purchased four testing machines that provide results in about 15 minutes and became a certified lab, allowing football, soccer, cross country and golf seasons to proceed.

“We spent so much time researching everything all summer that it seemed natural to create our own little bubble at our school,” Spahn said.

Kiski School has around 195 students and is a member of the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA), not the PIAA. The school has boys from multiple states along with a number of international students.

Athletics is an integral part of the school’s education plans. Freshmen and sophomores are required to play three sports, Spahn said, estimating that 80% of juniors play at least one sport and 75% of seniors. Athletics take the place of physical education classes.

Students will return to campus starting Sept. 5, but the first football game won’t be played until Oct. 3. Kiski opens against Peddie School in Heightstown, N.J.

“When kids get here, we’ll keep that bubble tight in September, and then we’ll play,” Spahn said. “All of this is because we want our kids to get back to normalcy as much as possible. The kids want to compete. They want to see their friends. It helps their mental health.”

The contact sports of football and soccer will compete exclusively against other boarding schools taking similar covid-19 precautions. Football has a six-game schedule, reduced from a typical nine-game slate, against opponents from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio and West Virginia.

Cross country and golf will face regional opponents but with added precautions. The school will use a staggered start for cross country in a time-trial approach, keeping teammates together during the race. Golfers will play their rounds in a foursome all from the same school.

Players from the same team will be housed together in dorms. Nearly all of the school’s teachers and coaches also live on campus, Spahn said. The teams won’t use locker rooms. Instead, athletes will dress in their dorms.

If a student needs to leave campus, he’ll be tested when he returns. The testing machines purchased by the school analyze nasal swabs.

“We’re doing the absolute best we can to ensure safety,” Spahn said.

Kiski School administrators monitored Gov. Tom Wolf’s recent guidance when he “strongly recommended” all youth sports be postponed until at least Jan. 1. If that were a mandate, the school would’ve complied, Spahn said, but they view their situation as different than a traditional high school.

“We didn’t want to treat our situation like a school of 2,000 in a day-school population,” he said. “We figured we had an opportunity to do something special. We honestly wouldn’t do this if we felt uncomfortable.”

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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