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State clears the way for PIAA fall sports

After months of waiting and wondering, high school sports fans throughout the state got some good news on Wednesday.

Pennsylvania Gov.Tom Wolf issued preliminary guidance for high school sports teams to resume voluntary workouts and other in-person activities.

The press release issued by the Wolf Administration would appear to clear the way for high school sports to take place this fall.

“Pennsylvania has some of the best athletes and teams in the country and they can now begin to safely return to organized sports,” said Gov. Wolf. “This guidance balances keeping student athletes safe from COVID-19 while allowing them to participate in an important part of their lives.

“This is another step toward reopening our state and getting things back on track. As students and teammates get ready to train and compete, it’s important that they follow precautions to protect each other and their community from the risk of COVID-19.”

According to the release, public and private schools under the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) in the yellow and green phase - which is now every county in the state - can resume voluntary sports-related workouts.

The news from the governor’s office was immediately followed by a press release from the PIAA.

“Allowing voluntary activities to commence at PIAA member schools as early as the approval by the local board is a significant move to allow students to be students,” said PIAA Executive Director, Dr. Robert A. Lombardi. “We are very appreciative and supportive of the Governor’s staff and PDE for allowing our input and having discussion of opening schools for voluntary workouts and activities.”

Lehighton Athletic Director Kyle Spotts and Northern Lehigh Athletic Director Bryan Geist both called the announcement welcome news that added some clarity for schools in how to take the first steps to re-opening their sports programs.

“We at least have some direction and guidance now,” Spotts said. “It’s a huge first step in the process of sports opening up across the state.”

Geist added, “The announcement from the governor’s office on Wednesday gave us some guidance as to what our next steps need to be.

“We are excited to begin plans to get our athletes back playing sports again, while at the same time making their health and safety our No. 1 priority.”

As happy as both athletic directors were to be heading toward sports again, both said there were lots of details that still had to be worked out and some questions that still needed to be answered.

One significant detail was the fact that schools must first develop an athletic health and safety plan in alignment with the state’s guidelines. That plan must be approved by the local school board and posted on the school’s website before any sports related activities can begin.

“I will be meeting with our athletic trainers and with our partners from St.Luke’s Heath Network to formulate a plan that will meet the guidelines necessary to bring our athletes back,” Geist said. “As I understand the rules, the plan must be approved by our school board - and their next meeting is June 22.

“So we basically have a week-and-a-half, to formulate a plan and have it to the board before that next meeting. That’s a tall order because of everything that will have to be addressed in our plan. But that’s our goal.”

Spotts said Lehighton actually began to formulate its plan last week, so it already has some of the groundwork done.

“We had to wait for today’s release from the state and the PIAA to get all the information and details we needed, but I began meeting last week with our assistant AD Tom McCarroll, our principal Suzanne Howland and our superintendent Jonathan Cleaver to start putting something together.

“Our next school board meeting is June 29, so we should be in good shape to have it ready by that time.”

All activities must still be in accordance with PIAA out-of-season rules and regulations.

According to Spotts, that means that as soon as the plan has been approved, teams should be able to start workouts.

“Normally, at this time of the year, we would have most of our fall sports teams conducting workouts and conditioning already,” said Spotts. “So the sooner we can get our plan put together and approved, the quicker we can get our teams back and safely preparing for their seasons.”

Geist said Northern Lehigh has the same goals and will more than likely be adding items that have become more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That could include no-touch forehead thermometers, hand sanitizing stations, and other items to keep Bulldog athletes as safe as possible.

“We want a safe return to sports as quickly as possible,” he said. “We will make sure all our athletes and coaches know the protocols and procedures that are going to be in place. There are definitely going to be some situations that are new to all of us.”