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The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League and Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League delivered some holiday cheer to their constituents to allow for competition when the suspension from scholastic athletics is anticipated to be lifted Jan. 4.

Gov. Tom Wolf issued a statewide mandate Dec. 10 shutting down all school sports and extracurricular activities for three weeks.

As a result, boys and girls basketball, swimming, wrestling, rifle and competitive cheer competitions and practices have been on holiday.

Recent actions by the state and local leagues that govern school sports, however, will allow for a safe return to action as well as opportunities for all to compete.

On Dec. 22, the PIAA adopted revised regulations regarding practices to provide for a return to competition. The league reduced the number of practices from 15 to 10 before a contest is played. Schools that had completed a preseason, including those that have already played a game, must practice a minimum of four times before resuming play.

This change accommodates all areas of the state including those that may be moving to a later January start.

“The board felt it was important to establish a common theme for practices, where some schools started, some did not and some had a partial start,” said president Frank Majikes in a PIAA-issued press release. “This will give member schools direction to return to competition on (Jan. 4) per the governor’s order.”

To assist sports where the school is required to utilize off campus, community or private facilities, for hosting, specifically swimming, bowling, rifle and girls gymnastics, the requirement would be five days, not 10.

Virtual practices are not allowed and a school may not shorten the days of practice before competition by holding more than one practice in a day.

Five practices are needed before the first scrimmage unless six or more preseason practices have been completed; then only four practices are needed before a game or scrimmage.

“I applaud the PIAA,” said Upper St. Clair boys basketball coach Dan Holzer. “It’s the right thing to do for kids.”

The WPIAL provided a chance for every team to compete when it voted to open its postseason basketball tournament to all teams. It is the first time since 1984 that the league welcomed all squads regardless of their records or standing in section play.

“I think it’s a great idea particularly because of what COVID-19 has presented,” Holzer said. “All athletes deserve something to look forward to especially during an unknown winter.”

Because Holzer’s Panthers have fulfilled their allotment of practices they are on schedule to play Jan. 8 at Peters Township in the Section 2, 6A opener. During the three-week hiatus from activities, USC missed one league game. Holzer said he anticipates the Panthers will make up the Jan. 5 Baldwin clash later in the season.

“We are excited to get back at it,” Holzer said. “All these changes are good for the kids and it will be great to return to playing and practicing. I always look at things positively so, yes, I am optimistic about this and our ability to have a season this winter.”

The WPIAL basketball playoffs are scheduled to start Feb. 27 and conclude with championships March 12-15 at sites to be determined. Only the WPIAL winner will advance to the PIAA tournament.

The WPIAL also adjusted some dates for championships.

Rifle team finals are set for Feb. 16 with the individual championships scheduled for Feb. 18. Gymnastics finals are Feb. 26-27.

Competitive cheer championships are set for March 13 at Hempfield.

Qualifying standards for swimming and diving are yet to be determined. So is the site for the swim finals.

The WPIAL has used the University of Pittsburgh’s Trees Pool as its site for the swim championships. Likewise the basketball championships were played in the past at the Petersen Events Center.

The PIAA postponed the team wrestling championships to a date to be determined and to follow the individual championships.

The WPIAL board added a subsection round to the individual wrestling tournament. Wrestlers will start their postseason there, advance to the section tournament and then to the WPIAL individual championship.

The move allows every school to qualify one wrestler in each weight class while also following a PIAA directive to limit brackets to eight athletes or fewer.

Almanac Sports Editor

An award-winning journalist, Eleanor Bailey has been employed by Observer Publishing Company since 1982. She is the sports editor at The Almanac and a contributor for the Observer-Reporter.

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