Norwin AD trying to maintain normalcy during covid crisis

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Saturday, November 7, 2020 | 11:01 AM


Norwin has encountered covid-19 like a lot of other school districts in Westmoreland County.

In fact, it was one of the first to announce cases among its student body.

But unlike the others, the majority of the school’s athletic programs have marched forward, almost without pause, through the WPIAL fall season.

The only positives the Knights teams are talking these days concern their attitude toward confronting the pandemic.

“We didn’t want to shut programs down,” Norwin first-year athletic director Mike Burrell said. “It’s been a challenging time for all of us (athletic directors). I have been in meetings, and by the time the meeting is over, everything we have talked about has changed. You just want to try and keep things as close to normal as possible. I know that’s hard to do these days.”

When positive cases were discovered, the district closed seven schools, including the high school.

But sports played on.

Other county schools such as Penn-Trafford, Derry, Hempfield and Southmoreland stopped sports completely when the virus was discovered in their districts.

“Our athletes did not come in contact with the (infected students), so we decided to keep playing,” Burrell said. “It wasn’t all about sports. Trust me, we would never put our kids or coaches in jeopardy. We’ll always err on the side of caution. We want to keep them safe.”

Norwin’s football team was the only one among eight teams in WPIAL Class 6A that did not have to cancel or postpone games due to the virus.

“I am very proud of the fact that our football team made it through the entire season without a disruption due to the pandemic,” Knights coach Dave Brozeski said. “I attribute this to the diligence that our players and staff had with following the school district protocols and following the provided recommendations to ensure safety for our players and staff. I am very proud of our players and staff.”

One Norwin varsity program, however, did have a team member test positive, which resulted in a 14-day quarantine. The timing of the shutdown forced the girls volleyball team to withdraw from the WPIAL Class 4A playoffs.

Hempfield, which also had covid issues and had several teams go into quarantine, including football, replaced Norwin in the volleyball bracket.

“It was unfortunate when it happened because our girls had a great season,” Burrell said. “Our coaches have been great. Coaching high school sports is not easy to begin with; these people have full-time jobs. We have a special group of coaches here. They’ve done what we’ve asked of them to keep everyone safe.”

Norwin volleyball coach Mary Ellen Ferragonio said attention to detail was what kept Norwin mostly unscathed throughout the fall season.

“Norwin’s covid response group did a great job of putting in place a return-to-play plan by monitoring, advising and assuring that players, coaches and staff were as safe as possible and were able to participate in the fall athletics season,” she said. “Although we had a tough situation being shut down in the last week of section play and first week of playoffs, we were happy to get to play this fall.”

Burrell, who took over the position Aug. 31 after Brandon Rapp resigned and took the same job at Hempfield, said sports would not have continued to function if not for a swell of support from the school’s administrators, board and numerous officials.

There were many Zoom meetings and phone conversations before Norwin decided to go full steam ahead with athletics.

“The shutdown (of schools) helped,” he said. “Having people work remotely kept them distanced, and students were not all together at one time.”

Burrell credits assistant AD Andy Phipps and Tim McCabe, the interim AD after Rapp left, for keeping the department running smoothly.

“They have done a great job,” he said. “It was a little overwhelming at first. But when you realize how many people are here to help you and work together, it becomes more manageable.”

Burrell was the AD at Greensburg Salem for just under two years before coming to Norwin. He soon will serve as a mentor for newly hired Greensburg Salem AD Frank Sundry.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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