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PIAA pushes for Gov. Tom Wolf to reconsider his recommendation of no high school football this fall

Written by: on Friday, August 7th, 2020. Follow Joseph Santoliquito on Twitter.


Last Wednesday, July 29, it all appeared good, with the lingering caveat of what Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said in regards to the upcoming 2020 high school football season.

A week later, after the PIAA Board of Directors voted by a 29-3 margin that fall sports would go on as scheduled, Governor Wolf nixed the idea as a safety precaution during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

PIAA is waiting two more weeks to make a final determination, since neither Gov. Wolf nor the PIAA has made a definitive decision on the subject.

On Friday, the PIAA formally asked for the governor to reconsider his recommendation that there will be no fall sports during 2020—meaning no high school football this fall.

In a statement by the PIAA on August 7:

“The PIAA Board of Directors met this afternoon to review Governor Wolf’s statement strongly recommending no interscholastic and recreational sports until January 1st. As we have noted, our member schools have worked diligently to develop health and safety plans in accordance with the Department of Health and Department of Education recommendations to allow students to safely return to interscholastic sports.

“The PIAA Board of Directors has heard the thousands of voices of student-athletes, parents, coaches, and community leaders that have contacted us. The Board believes that the Governor’s strong recommendation to delay sports to January 1, 2021 has a potential negative impact on the students’ physical, social, emotional, and mental health. These issues along with the financial inability of many students to participate in any other form of non-school based athletic programs affect all students directly or indirectly.

“PIAA is asking the Governor, along with the Departments of Health and Education, to partner with us and work collaboratively to further discuss fall sports. We are also seeking insight and discussion from the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

“It is clear to PIAA, the unintended consequences of cancelling fall sports need to be further reviewed. PIAA has worked diligently with its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and developed the following general policy statement: Based on currently known information, the Committee believes that STRICT ADHERENCE by schools and teams to their school-adopted plans and the Governor’s School Sports Guidance should provide a reasonably safe environment for student athletes to participate in interscholastic athletics as currently scheduled.

“Consistent with the advice of the PIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, PIAA continues to believe it can safely sponsor fall sports. On August 21st the Board will reconvene. Between now and then, voluntary workouts, per the Governor’s Guidance for All Sports, and with local approval, may continue. Mandatory fall sports activities are paused for the two-week period. PIAA remains committed to providing a season for each of the sports during the 2020-2021 school year.

The PIAA Friday release came in response to Wolf’s statement during a Thursday press conference when he said, “… we ought to avoid any congregate settings. And that means anything that brings people together is going to help that virus get us and we ought to do everything we can to defeat that virus. So, any time we get together for any reason, that’s a problem because it makes it easier for that virus to spread.”

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health and Department of Education released a statement on Thursday that the Wolf administration strongly recommends, though did not mandate, that school administrators and local school boards should make the decisions on sports.

On Thursday, the PIAA Board of Directors issued a response: “Today, Governor Wolf issued a statement of strongly endorsing no interscholastic and recreational sports until Jan. 1st. We are tremendously disappointed in this decision. Our member schools have worked diligently to develop health and safety plans to allow students the safe return to interscholastic athletics.”

The PIAA Board of Directors met Friday afternoon to review Wolf’s statement and issued its official statement basically putting an end to the thought of high school football being played in Pennsylvania during the 2020 calendar year.

This comes much to the dismay of PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi, who had been a staunch advocate of fall sports taking place in Pennsylvania.

“It has been an awful lot of effort from an awful lot of people,” Lombardi emphatically stated during the July 29 board meeting. “We’ve been really working at this to make sure our student/athletes have the opportunity to be student/athletes. If we don’t try to get something out of this season for students, I think we’re failing them.”

Danny DiBernardinis is the new athletic director at St. Joseph’s Prep, the two-time defending 6A state champions and a team that is a perennial national power. DiBernardinis had been frantically making phone calls trying to fulfill the rest of the Hawks’ non-league slate outside of the Catholic League Red Division, which consists of the Hawks, Father Judge, La Salle, Roman Catholic and Archbishop Wood.

“We want everyone, the PIAA and the governor, to come together to find a solution, because every school has done a lot of planning,” DiBernardinis said. “That’s our hope. That everyone comes together to find a solution.

“We lined up a schedule to play the top teams in the country. What’s frustrating for our kids who are seniors and who haven’t gotten a lot of time on film is to give those kids an opportunity. It’s tough to gauge right now where the future lies, since things are changing so rapidly.

“This Prep team was expected to be one of the best in school history and we wanted to give our guys a chance to go out and prove it, and play the game that they love.

“We want to formalize plans to attack this the best way we can. Above all, the health of our students and our staff is our highest priority.”

Photo Credit: Jim Beaver @ Flat Tail Photography

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter who has been covering high school football since 1992 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on twitter @JSantoliquito. Follow on Twitter @EPAFootball.

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