PIAA and WPIAL officials said they were “disheartened and disappointed” when Gov. Tom Wolf suggested the entire high school athletic scene could be shuttered until 2021.
During a recent daily coronavirus news briefing, Wolf said “the guidance from us, the recommendation, is that we don’t do any sports until Jan. 1.”
The Department of Health and Department of Education followed that announcement with a joint news release regarding Pre-K-12 school and recreational youth sports guidelines. The notification said the administration is providing this “strong” recommendation, but it is not an order nor a mandate. It said the decision regarding sports should be made by elected school boards.
The PIAA responded with its own news release.
“We are tremendously disappointed in this decision,” it said. “Our member schools have worked diligently to develop health and safety plans to allow students the safe return to interscholastic athletics.”
WPIAL officials held a news conference outside the governing body’s Green Tree offices, the league outlined all the guidelines it has adhered to since being permitted to return to sports June 10.
In addition to adjusting protocols, the league modified its schedule to allow for a hybrid start to fall athletics.
“The WPIAL has and will continue to support high school athletics, and surrounding activities, as an important and invaluable component of education,” said executive director Amy Scheuneman, who was previously athletic director at Bethel Park.
“With that being said, our response is one of frustration due to the uncalculated, inconsistent and unfair approach to this guidance.”
Scheuneman said COVID-19 statistics shows no increase in COVID-19 cases in youth. She said not providing sports pose “negative and adverse health risks” to students including isolation, depression, anxiety, obesity and social losses.
“For some sports is the incentive for them to go to school,” she said. “Sports provides hope. It’s an outlet to relieve stress or work toward goals and learn valuable lessons that they’ll need later in life. Not having sports is an opportunity this students will not get back and lack of participation may actually alter their future endeavors.”
Scheuneman said sports like tennis and golf allow for social distancing. She said many recreational sports like youth baseball and softball leagues, AAU basketball and other club activities are being ignored.
“Now without justification or validations, they made a strong recommendation not to play. Why the discrepancy without guidance?” Scheuneman said.
The PIAA hopes to meet with Wolf, student-athletes are signing petitions and a rally is being organized for Aug. 20 in Harrisburg.
After Wolf’s comments, the PIAA board of directors voted to postpone the start of fall sports in Pennsylvania for two weeks. Voluntary workouts, however, are continuing. The PIAA will meet again Aug. 21.
“The PIAA made the right choice to take a little more time to find common ground with the governor,” said Upper St. Clair football coach Mike Junko. “No matter what side of the issue you may be on I think the the league raised a number of issues that impact young people beyond COVID that should be considered by the decision makers in Harrisburg.”
Junko said USC has provided a “safe and healthy” environment in which to practice and play.
“As a program we have prepared with the idea that we will be playing,” Junko said. “Our focus is not on Harrisburg, it is on making sure we keep everyone safe and continue to grow as a football team here in Upper St. Clair.”
If school boards have the final say regarding fall sports, Junko said he is confident USC administrators.
“They have been very supportive throughout this process,” he said. “I am sure they will consider all of the options and listen to all of our stakeholders before they make a decision about playing in the fall.”