PIAA officials cancel spring sports season, winter sports championships

Thursday, April 9, 2020 | 3:19 PM

For nearly a month, high school student-athletes held out hope they could return to normalcy on the fields, courts and track.

On Thursday, those hopes were dashed.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced all schools in the state will remain closed for the remainder of the school year as people all over the world deal with the coronavirus pandemic. In response, the PIAA board of directors decided to cancel spring sports competition and the remainder of the winter sports championships that had been postponed.

“Today’s decision by the PIAA board of directors was difficult for everyone. Their thoughts remain on the thousands of student-athletes, coaches, officials and family members affected by this decision,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said in a statement.

“However, the board’s position reflects a steadfast priority of keeping our student-athletes, officials and member schools’ staffs and their communities safe, while following the guidelines provided by the governor, the department of health and the department of education.”

PIAA officials suspended the state basketball tournament and Class AA swimming championships March 12. The PIHL followed suit with the Penguins Cup playoffs. The high school bowling state championships also were postponed.

“We are all well aware and saddened by the impact this decision has on the student-athletes both in the WPIAL and across the PIAA,” WPIAL associate executive director Amy Scheuneman said. “But every effort was made to hold out hope as long as possible, and for that we are grateful. However, we must respect the governor’s orders and do our part to help stop the spread of this virus and the detrimental impact it is taking on our country as a whole.”

According to the PIAA, 17 other states have ended their sports seasons, as well.

“We had maintained hope for a continuation of our winter championships and an abbreviated spring season to help bring a sense of normalcy to our communities,” Lombardi added. “As we navigate through this difficult time we need to remember the lessons that interscholastic athletics has taught us: cooperation, patience, sacrifice, responsibility, respect and perseverance.”

Boys basketball teams from Butler, Mt. Lebanon, North Catholic, Lincoln Park, Beaver Falls, OLSH, Sto-Rox, Bishop Canevin and Cornell remained in the PIAA tournament.

“We’ve had a successful year,” said Butler boys basketball coach Matt Clement, whose team advanced to the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinals and was awaiting a matchup with McDowell. “We finished on a 17-game winning streak, won the section and won the WPIAL. It’s been a successful year. You’d like some closure, but this is a serious time.

“It’s more important to get America safe.”

Girls basketball teams from North Allegheny, Bethel Park, Trinity, Chartiers Valley, Thomas Jefferson, North Catholic, Mohawk, Beaver, Ellis School and Rochester were still alive in the PIAA tournament.

“I knew it was a possibility and going to be the case, but the finality of it makes me sad,” said North Catholic girls basketball coach Molly Rottmann, whose team won the WPIAL Class 4A title and had advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals.

“I have nine seniors I’m never going to get to coach again. I have a senior here at home (Trojans boys basketball player Hans Rottmann), as well. You feel bad for them. I totally get that it’s the right thing to do, and I understand the safety. But the emotional factor … I feel sad.”

The North Allegheny, Pine-Richland, Seneca Valley and Peters Township hockey teams had qualified for the PIHL Penguins Cup Class AAA semifinals. Baldwin and Latrobe in Class AA, Thomas Jefferson and Indiana in Class A and Carrick and Ringgold in Class B had reached the championship games.

PIHL commissioner John Mucha and the league’s board members met Wednesday night. They canceled the league’s junior high tournament and girls mini-season but kept the varsity games on hold, hoping there still will be an opportunity for them to be played.

Dozens of Western Pennsylvania athletes also had qualified for the PIAA Class AA swimming and diving championships and the state bowling championships.

Practices for spring sports season in baseball, softball, boys volleyball, boys and girls lacrosse and track and field were underway for nearly two weeks before the PIAA ordered a shutdown. Boys tennis matches had also been contested.

Thursday was supposed to the annual Lady Spartan/Wildcat Invitational where hundreds of track and field athletes would gather and compete. Instead, Latrobe Memorial Stadium was empty.

“The coaches and kids were really looking forward to the season,” Hempfield track and field coach Ron Colland said. “We’re very disappointed all this has transpired. We’re just all thinking how disappointing it is for everyone. I can’t imagine, especially, what the seniors are thinking.”

Baseball and softball fields across Western Pennsylvania also are quiet. Those diamonds were supposed to be home to moments that will stay with players for a lifetime.

Freeport baseball coach Ed Carr choked up thinking of his senior players who won’t get to play their final high school season.

“Obviously, I’m heartbroken for all the kids, all the seniors,” said Carr, whose team went 15-7 last season and reached the PIAA playoffs. “It’s terrible for all those guys. I can’t imagine going to school 12 years and having it end like this.”

Hempfield has won five straight WPIAL softball championships and a sixth looked attainable, with nine seniors returning for veteran coach Bob Kalp.

“It was disheartening,” he said. “You held out hope that maybe we could get back in the early part of the summer and piece something together. I can certainly understand (the PIAA’s) position.”

Kalp said he felt terrible for his seniors, but also knows this could have a lasting affect on the program, which is 419-105-1 during his 23-year tenure.

“You can’t just remove one season and pretend everything will be back to normal next year,” he said. “The way I look at it, all the underclassmen are going to miss a year of work and will be a year behind. It’s definitely going to affect the level of play in my mind.”

Penn-Trafford reached the WPIAL Class 6A baseball championship game last season, and coach Dan Miller was looking forward to seeing his team attempt to make a return trip.

“It’s certainly disappointing selfishly for our baseball program but for all the spring sports in general,” he said. “A lot of these athletes train year-round. It’s disappointing for sure.”

The Leechburg softball team has qualified for the WPIAL playoffs 33 consecutive seasons. But Debbi Young’s team won’t get a chance to continue that streak this spring.

“I expected it, but I had an inkling of hope that we would do some type of abbreviated season of some sort, maybe a tournament in the summer. That was me being hopeful,” Young said.

“I hate that (the players) keep getting bad news. They’re probably going to be pretty bummed. The three seniors I have, it probably would have been the last time they play softball.”

The Derry boys volleyball team reached the PIAA Class AA playoffs last season, and despite graduating a deep group of upperclassmen, the Trojans had high expectations for the 2020 campaign.

“It was a good group of seniors, well kept under the radar,” Derry volleyball coach Shawn Spencer said. “They didn’t see a lot of in-game action last year. I thought we were going to be able to surprise a lot of people out there and make a push.”

PIAA officials are planning for summer activities to begin July 1, but said it is too early to make any decisions regarding that date or the status of fall sports preseason workouts.

“We will continue to wait for direction from the governor in regards to summer workouts and when it is deemed safe to gather in groups again,” Scheuneman said. “We are certainly hopeful that fall sports will remain intact as scheduled.”

The statewide school shutdown affects more than 1.7 million students in public and private K-12 schools. Wolf made the decision upon consultation with Education Secretary Petro Rivera and Dr. Rachel Levine, the state health secretary.

“We must continue our efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus during this national crisis,” Wolf said in a statement. “This was not an easy decision but closing schools until the end of the academic year is in the best interest of our students, school employees and families.”

There have been 18,228 confirmed covid-19 cases and 338 deaths across the state.

Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at bhartlep@triblive.com or via Twitter @BHartlep_Trib.

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