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Jim Thorpe is first school in the region to approve plan to bring back student-athletes

The Jim Thorpe Area School District took a significant step in its effort to return to the field this fall with the approval of its Guidelines for Resocialization into Sports.

On an 8-1 vote, the school board passed the measure at Wednesday night’s school board meeting. Director Ron Marciante, who cast the sole vote again, said he was opposed because he believes it’s too risky.

The district is the first in the area to pass such a measure, in alignment with the state’s guidelines for fall sports athletes, which includes voluntary workouts and the start of the regular season.

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

“It’s definitely the start of trying to get back to normal, trying to get people back on campus,” said Olympians’ Athletic Director Dustin McAndrew. “It’s been a while. It’s been four months since everybody was in school, so it’s pretty big to be able to actually start that process of getting people back.

“And I know a lot of people are very eager to get back, and just to try to get back to something that’s somewhat normal from where we were. And it’s not going to be totally normal; there are a lot of guidelines and modifications, but at least hopefully this is the start of getting back to that normal.”

Board member TJ Garritano, who also serves as the chair of the Athletic Fields and Concessions Committee, praised McAndrew and Lehigh Valley Health Network for coming together to get it done quickly.

“After the governor released his requirements last week, our AD went to work on the plan right away,” said Garritano. “And what was awesome was, we had our soon-to-be medical/corporate sponsor, Lehigh Valley Health Network, basically write the plan with us, from a medical perspective, telling us to follow these steps and you’ll be safe.”

LVHN is helping to fund the school’s new turf football field. The district selected LVHN to be its medical provider and corporate sponsor in the spring,

While the agreement doesn’t begin until July 1, LVHN still worked with the district to put the plan together.

“We’re the first school district to get the plan, and it’s the same plan as all the Lehigh Valley districts, but we’re the first to implement it,” said Garritano, “Not only in Carbon County, but Lehigh and Schuylkill County.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PIAA, NFHS and White House Guidelines for Opening Up American Again form the basis of the recommendations. The plan, which is posted on the district’s website and presented by LVHN and Coordinated Health, includes recommendations for all phases in youth and high school sports.

Initial summer activities are meant for fall sports only. All other sports workout dates will be determined at a later date.

“And given Carbon County’s in the green, that opens up more opportunities for us,” said Garritano. “Instead of a gathering of 25, we can actually have up to 250 athletes on the field at one time. Which is great, because we’re looking at our plan starting July 1.

“We’re going to take these two weeks to put all of what we outlined in the plan in place, and then July 1, it’s go for voluntary workouts. And we’re going to split it up, with football going 7-9 a.m.; soccer will be after that; then volleyball and tennis and everything else will follow.”

Per the plan’s recommendations, no student will be punished or restricted from participation in future and/or current activities due to nonparticipation in offseason activities as a result of parental/guardian restrictions or personal/medical reasons.

“School districts and coaches must recognize each student has different circumstances that may create an unreasonable risk for him or her to participate.”

The plan will rollout in phases with more activity to be allowed as the fall sports season approaches.

“Every gateway is like a 14-day window,” said Garritano. “So for the first 14 days, all our coaches are concerned with is conditioning, getting the kids reacclimated to everything. They’ll go 50%, nothing ridiculous, but starting to get them back into game-shape.

“If we have no outbreaks, if Carbon County stays in the green, our school district has no issues, then after 14 days, the next phase is more or less game-type situations, light contact, passing scrimmages, all of that. And that really puts us up to the start of heat acclimation for the fall sports season. So our goal is to get to that August date and we’ve checked all these boxes and we know our athletes are ready to go for the regular season.”

While a lot can happen between now and then, McAndrew is cautiously optimistic that the district is headed in the right direction.

“I know it’s difficult for all the schools trying to put this together,” he said. “Coming from the state, I guess everybody was kind of looking for information for quite awhile, and we were just trying to get ahead of it. So whatever information that we had initially - the NFHS guidelines and some information from other school districts as well - trying to put this together, we were just trying to get ahead of it.

“We were pretty much keeping our fingers crossed that once all the guidelines and everything came out that we would be very similar to what was being put out there. And we did have some help from LVHN with putting this together; they had a lot of the information and guidelines on phases and different things like that for starting this return to play.”

It might only be the first step. But it’s a move many have waited for months to happen.

The Jim Thorpe Area School Board on Wednesday approved a health and safety plan for the district. Thorpe is the first school in the region to set the wheels in motion to get student-athletes back on campus and holding offseason workouts. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS