WPIAL calls Gov. Wolf’s recommendation ‘uncalculated, inconsistent and unfair’

Monday, August 10, 2020 | 11:57 AM

The WPIAL strongly supports playing high school sports this fall despite Gov. Tom Wolf’s recommendation they be postponed until January.

“The WPIAL’s response to the governor’s comments … is one of frustration,” WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman said Monday, “due to uncalculated, inconsistent and unfair approach to this guidance.”

Scheuneman spoke at a press conference outside the WPIAL office in Green Tree.

She cited Allegheny County Health Department data that showed sports wasn’t a significant cause for coronavirus spread in recent weeks, according to contact tracing. The governor’s guidance is “inconsistent” because he hasn’t issued a recommendation that schools cancel in-person classes, she said, only sports.

It was “unfair,” she added, because Wolf’s administration issued guidance in June for schools to resume sports. That guidance required every school district to create and implement a health-and-safety plan for covid-19. Those plans are in place and working successfully, she said.

“My plea to Gov. Wolf is to reevaluate and see the importance of high school athletics as a whole in the development of student-athletes,” Scheuneman said.

The WPIAL’s position was in line with what the PIAA board decided last week when it delayed the start of fall sports by two weeks. The delay until Aug. 24 was intended to give the PIAA additional time to talk with Wolf’s administration, state legislators and others before determining a path forward.

The PIAA board will reconvene Aug. 21.

“The WPIAL is in favor of the PIAA’s approach to get more clarity on what a ‘strong recommendation’ actually means to schools legally if they choose to offer sports this fall,” Scheuneman said. “We also support the continuation of sports under the established guidelines.”

The governor on Thursday said youth sports shouldn’t be played until at least Jan. 1 to prevent potential coronavirus spread. His brief comment at a press conference was followed a few hours later by a document from the state departments of health and education, which described Wolf’s guidance as a “strong recommendation” and not an order or mandate.

The WPIAL response came the same day Philadelphia Public Schools revealed plans to follow Wolf’s recommendation and postpone sports, showing the differing reactions seen statewide. Pittsburgh Public Schools administrators already made plans to postpone City League sports as well.

“We wanted to make this public announcement to let the schools and the students know we are fighting for them to have a season,” Scheuneman said.

Football teams were originally scheduled to start heat acclimatization Monday but that’s been pushed to Aug. 24. All other fall sports also can start practice on that date, but it’s unclear whether games will be held as scheduled.

The first would be golf on Aug. 27 and girls tennis Aug. 31.

Scheuneman said it is possible low-risk sports could be played in the fall while high-risk sports like football aren’t. Football games are scheduled to start Sept. 10 or 11.

“If (the governor) has concerns about an individual sport, let’s have those conversations,” she said.

Days before saying sports should be postponed, the governor also recommended that schools with online-only classes shouldn’t play sports. Scheuneman disagreed.

“You have to look at the big picture in order to understand it,” she said. “Schools make decisions because they have thousands of students that would be walking the hallways. They cannot effectively social distance 500, 1,500, 2,000 kids in the hallways. But when they go out to a soccer field or a tennis court, there are far fewer students. Seven athletes are needed for a tennis match. That’s certainly manageable.”

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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