Area high school football teams received positive news when the PIAA decided July 15 to move forward with the normal start of the fall sports season.
Unless otherwise directed by the Commonwealth, the PIAA said football will commence with heat acclimatization practices Aug. 10. The first practice date for the remaining fall sports begins Aug. 17. The first football games are scheduled for Aug. 28.
“Our focus is the health and safety of student athletes, which is paramount in moving forward with athletics,” said executive director Bob Lombardi in the PIAA’s emailed statement.
The PIAA noted each member school has already developed health and safety guidelines to allow athletics to continue as an important part of the school day.
“Participation in athletics has known health benefits, including promoting physical fitness and mental wellness, which is necessary in a time of uncertainty for our student athletes,” Lombardi said.
The news came as a relief for area coaches who are busily preparing for the upcoming season. The coronavirus epidemic eliminated the spring sports season as well as deterred teams from practicing until mid-June and participating in 7-on-7 drills.
So now that they have the green light, “we are practicing until we can’t,” said Bethel Park head coach Brian DeLallo.
He said the thing he and his players have learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is flexibility.
“Things change day by day, hour by hour,” he said. “You just have to roll with it.”
Today, coaches are not just saddled with Xs and Os. They are taking temperature checks, sanitizing equipment and checking players for symptoms of the virus.
Players and coaches are practicing physical distancing and wearing face masks at all times, except when participating in a specific drill. Some, like Chartiers Valley, have tiered workouts, bringing in certain numbers of players to practice on the field or lift in the weight room.
“We are following all the guidelines. Our school put in a great plan,” said Colts head coach Dan Knause.
“We were pleased with the news out of Harrisburg,” he continued. “A lot of people were very nervous, but this was good news. These kids need it.”
Knause said there likely will be some adjustments to how games look this fall, but is grateful that so far the high school season is on track.
“Our program motto is “Make Today Count” and never has that been truer than this year,” he said. “We are only guaranteed today. We have to embrace each day and treat it as a blessing and an opportunity.”
Upper St. Clair head coach Mike Junko has adapted as well. He said the Panthers were one of the first to do online workouts, which kept the coaches in touch with the players. The virtual practices included strength and conditioning as well as playbook study sessions.
In addition to being a very connected group coming out of quarantine, Junko said his players have a “new gratitude and appreciation” for being on the field together.
“One of the big things we preach, and it’s been the hallmark of our program,” Junko said, “is taking things day by day. Live in the present and control what you can control.
“We’ve kept the program moving forward and the kids in the right frame of mind. So whatever tomorrow brings, they are able to attack it with the same attitude. It’s how we go about our business.”
Junko knows further decisions regarding the fall season are beyond his authority.
“We have to live with them but right now we are carrying on as if we will play. I have no idea what will happen in the future, but I sure hope we continue to get good news and we play.”