WPIAL athletic directors deal with ‘whirlwind’ while preparing for fall sports

Tuesday, September 15, 2020 | 12:43 PM

A pandemic wasn’t exactly on the radar for Drew Karpen when he was hired as the Highlands athletic director last year.

“You could have given me a million guesses on how my first year was going to go, and I would’ve not have mentioned it at all,” Karpen said.

That’s the reality every athletic director in Western Pennsylvania has had to deal with in 2020. From canceling a full season of sports to preparing to save another one, they’ve had to maneuver through, and prepare for, several obstacles that have popped up in front of them.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit back in March, athletic directors have had to react on the fly as circumstances changed day after day. All of them had one goal in mind — making sure student-athletes could take to the field, court or course in the fall and beyond.

“It’s been a whirlwind, I’ll tell you that,” Montour athletic director and football coach Lou Cerro said. “We’ve changed schedules numerous times. We’ve made numerous changes to practices, when practice would start, scrimmages and when the playoffs are. I don’t know how the principals and superintendents have done it either. But in the long run, we want the kids to play fall sports.”

Before athletic directors could tackle the challenge of ensuring fall sports would be played, they had to deal with the canellation of spring sports.

The pandemic hit in the middle of the PIAA basketball tournament. Games were postponed with no sign of the tournament being finished. The PIAA swimming championships also were postponed before the final heats could take place. All of a sudden, seniors who were chasing PIAA gold had the opportunity taken away from them.

There also was a cautious approach to what would happen with spring sports. Teams started practicing, but coaches had an uneasiness about the situation given what was happening around the country. Then, on April 9, Gov. Tom Wolf announced all schools in the state would remain closed. Spring sports were canceled.

“At first, we just thought maybe we don’t finish the winter sports season, but as things progressed, we realized it was a real possibility that we weren’t going to have a spring season,” Karpen said. “It was hard to wrap your head around because you really feel for the seniors who prepared their whole life for their senior season, and it was just taken away from them.”

The cancelation of spring sports was something most athletic directors saw coming, but it was still like nothing they ever prepared for.

“I’ve been AD seven years now, and it’s something I’ve never experienced,” Cerro said. “I mean you’re normally checking the weather all day long hoping you don’t have to move a basketball game, or a baseball or softball game. When you cancel a whole season, you feel bad for the kids and their parents.”

Athletic directors quickly had to turn their attention to the constantly changing rules surrounding athletics over the summer. They had to prepare student-athletes and coaches for summer workouts and do whatever they could to keep hope alive for the fall teams.

It was one of the busiest summers to date for most athletic directors throughout the WPIAL. Normally summertime is when they can sit back and relax. This summer, athletic directors had to develop a return-to-play plan that needed to be approved by their school board.

“All summer there were a number of changes that we all went through, like masks then no masks at practice,” Quaker Valley AD Mike Mastroianni said. “So staying on top of that and getting to a level that everyone was OK managing and getting to a norm took time. It was definitely a much busier summer than normal.”

Scott Morrison felt that right off the bat. He took over as Yough’s athletic director this summer, replacing Tom Evans, who retired.

“One of the reasons I love sports so much is the life lessons that sports teach us,” he said. “We learn to focus on the things we can control and to use those things that we can control to try to overcome adversity. That is the mindset I will have taking over during these unprecedented times and during future adversity.”

Whilke the situation was daunting, none of the athletic directors had to go through the situation alone.

Throughout the summer, most had group chats or email chains with their peers. They bounced ideas off of each other in an effort to make sure everyone was on the same page.

“There has been constant communication with all the athletic directors, almost daily, on questions with what’s come up, what’s the right approach, and then when things change, we’re back at it again,” Mastroianni said. “So having that feedback and an understanding that everyone is on the same page with what’s right and what’s current is something that you’re always thankful for.”

Athletic directors, coaches, administrators and student-athletes around the WPIAL felt a sense of relief this past week as fall sports kicked off. Student-athletes took to the tennis courts, golf courses and soccer and football fields. Even though sports have kicked off, athletic directors know they have to stay vigilant with their approach so their season doesn’t stop at Week 1.

“You can’t get lackadaisical,” Cerro said. “You have to make sure you are still following the protocols, still following the social distancing, and we have to make sure we are doing all the right things so that we can play next week. You just have to keep doing the right things on and off the field or the court.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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