Spectators again restricted at high school sports but Gov. Wolf says ‘stay tuned’

Thursday, October 1, 2020 | 2:24 PM

North Allegheny will have a socially distant student section at Friday’s football game, and Norwin is moving forward with its homecoming festivities as planned.

Gathering limits on high school football games, volleyball matches and all other fall sports sprung back to life Thursday after the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals temporarily restored the governor’s restrictions, but many districts were sticking with the attendance policies they already have put in place.

“There are a lot of schools that are going on as planned because it’s such short notice,” Norwin athletic director Mike Burrell said.

Norwin decided to exclude visiting football fans Friday night but will provide two tickets for every Knights football player, band member and cheerleader. Among other WPIAL schools, North Allegheny intends to cap its football attendance at 15% of stadium capacity, athletic director Bob Bozzuto said.

“We’re allowing parents in to watch their kids: band, cheerleaders and football,” Bozzuto said. “We’re also allowing in students to try to get them back to a little bit of normalcy. And we’ll probably let a couple of fans in because we’re not even close to the 15%.”

Gov. Tom Wolf thanked the appeals court for restoring his 250-person outdoor and 25-person indoor limits while his appeal is heard but also indicated he will consider new guidelines for interscholastic sports to increase those numbers.

That would be welcome news for many school administrators struggling to fit football spectators under a 250-person limit. Penn Hills announced all spectators are banned from Saturday’s football game against Pine-Richland after the gathering limits were reinstated.

The 25-person indoor limit makes volleyball games difficult to organize, even without spectators.

“I keep working with the schools,” Wolf said. “We have to recognize we have a virus out there. I don’t like it. You don’t like it. Nobody likes it. Yet that virus is out to get us. We have to be careful about how we gather together. That’s the important thing.

“At the same time, we’ve got to make sure that we’re being reasonable and realistic about how we do things. So I’m doing everything I can, listening to folks and continue to change, as I did with restaurants. We’ll continue to make sure the guidelines we have in place are reasonable.”

Wolf was answering questions Thursday afternoon at an unrelated press conference. Hours earlier, the appeals court agreed to stay an earlier court decision from Sept. 14 that ruled the governor’s gathering restrictions unconstitutional.

In the past two weeks, many school districts set higher attendance limits.

“We’re back to the 250,” Wolf said, but he added, “I’m working right now with school districts and others to do what we can to recognize the context that we’re different in every community.”

Asked what this court decision means for schools planning to admit more than 250 individuals Friday night, Wolf said: “You’ll have to stay tuned.”

“We’re working on it as we speak,” he said. “Today is Thursday.”

House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny/Westmoreland, said last week the governor might be willing to adopt a percentage-of-capacity plan for interscholastic sports. The PIAA without success had previously asked Wolf to allow up to 25% of a facility’s capacity.

After consulting with its legal advisers, the PIAA issued a written statement acknowledging the gathering limits were back in place.

“PIAA is informing member schools of the decision and encouraging them to consult their solicitors as to what they can and cannot do under the Governor’s reinstated order,” the PIAA said.

The governor’s latest guidelines for school sports, last updated Sept. 2, said: “All sports-related activities must adhere to the gathering limitations set forth by the Governor’s Plan for Phased Reopening (25 or fewer people for indoor activity, 250 or fewer people for outdoor activity) and the facility as a whole may not exceed 50 percent of total occupancy otherwise permitted by law.

“All individuals present at the facility at which such activities are held count towards gathering limitations and must comply with face covering order and social distancing guidelines.”

Norwin won’t allow Baldwin parents to attend Friday’s football game but will conduct homecoming festivities as scheduled. The school is taking a “pods” approach, Burrell said.

Football and cheerleader parents will form a socially distant pod in the stands on one side of the stadium. Band members, their parents and homecoming court parents will sit on the opposite side. The homecoming court will sit in the bleachers beyond the end zone.

“We’re not intermixing our crowds,” Burrell said. “Half is staying on one side, and half will be on the other. We’re making alterations so we make sure we stay in our pods.”

Along with parents, North Allegheny intends to allow 170 students into its stadium.

Bozzuto pointed to comments Wolf made last month after the governor vetoed legislation written to empower school districts to make decisions about interscholastic sports.

“The governor said that decisions are up to local authorities, that we didn’t need House Bill 2787,” Bozzuto said. “So we’re going on the premise that it’s up to us. We’re going to social distance and we’re going to wear masks. … I believe we’re following the guidelines he offered.”

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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