Coaches react to delay of fall sports
A decision by the PIAA on Friday to delay the start of fall sports for two weeks offered some hope that there is still a chance area athletes will be able to compete this season.
“It’s better than what everybody expected,” said Kyle Spotts, Lehighton’s Director of Student Services and Facilities Planning. “I think everybody expected the worst going into the meeting today, and kudos to the PIAA for doing everything they can for our students, and student-athletes, and extending the two weeks to try and give themselves a window to meet with the individuals they plan on meeting with and get some clarity and further guidance as to whether this can happen or not happen.
“We’ve waited since March 13, so I think waiting two weeks, if you told everybody we had a chance for the fall season but we’re going to push it off two weeks, I think everybody would be on board. All things considered, it’s definitely better than what we all thought was going to happen. But we’re not out of the woods yet.”
What many feared would happen would be that the PIAA would follow the suggestion of Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf, who on Thursday recommended that no youth sports be played until January of 2021, a decision that also includes all PIAA sponsored high school sports this fall.
The PIAA released a statement that it was disappointed with the decision by Wolf, and that it would make an announcement today and noted it wants to work collaboratively with the governor, along with the Departments of Health and Education, to further discuss fall sports.
“We are also seeking insight and discussion from the Pennsylvania General Assembly,” the statement read. “It is clear to PIAA, the unintended consequences of cancelling fall sports need to be further reviewed. PIAA has worked diligently with its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and developed the following general policy statement based on currently known information, the Committee believes that STRICT ADHERENCE by schools and teams to their school-adopted plans and the Governor’s School Sports Guidance should provide a reasonably safe environment for student athletes to participate in interscholastic athletics as currently scheduled. Consistent with the advice of the PIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, PIAA continues to believe it can safely sponsor fall sports.
“On August 21st the Board will reconvene. Between now and then, voluntary workouts, per the Governor’s Guidance for All Sports, and with local approval, may continue. Mandatory fall sports activities are paused for the two week period. PIAA remains committed to providing a season for each of the sports during the 2020-2021 school year.”
Schools across the Commonwealth have been ramping up for the start of the season, but the last two days have been a whirlwind for coaches and athletic directors across the area.
“I think what people have to understand is that the PIAA and most of our schools are in support of the plans we have in place to return to sports,” said Northwestern Lehigh Director of Athletics and Student Activities and District 11 Football Chairman Jason Zimmerman. “Including our healthcare partners, whether it’s Lehigh Valley Health Network or St. Luke’s. We’ve met with professionals and we’ve gotten these plans approved. People are critical of the PIAA, but I really do think whatever decision they came out with today, and I do think it was the right one, the bottom line is when you have the Department of Health recommending what they’re recommended ... and then you have the Department of Education making this recommendation that you don’t start until January 1, now you put your school boards and superintendents in one heck of a position.
“And everybody says it’s just a recommendation or it’s just guidance, it’s more than just that. Because if something were to happen, you’re left out to dry. I really want to focus on everything that District 11 and Bob Hartman (Whitehall Athletic Director, District 11 Chairman) have been doing in support of these student-athletes and the PIAA. There are a lot of good people that are fighting like crazy for our student-athletes.”
Schools have worked to install health and safety plans to begin workouts during the summer in preparation for fall sports, something Spotts - who is also the Schuylkill League Football Chair - has seen work well.
“It’s what we’re all doing it for,” he said.”Whatever we have to do to ensure (their safety) and try to make it happen and provide those student-athletes an opportunity we will.
“Once the guidelines were approved, we had kids out at workouts doing everything we asked them to do for the last six weeks-plus. And everything has been smooth, from our end. From that aspect, it has been nice to see the effort put in from the students, the coaches, the trainers; everybody involved ... the parents; it’s not easy not being able to watch your kid work out or practice, and from our end, everybody has been doing what we’ve asked them to do. Whatever opportunity we have, we’ll figure out a way to make it work hopefully.”
As of now, football’s heat acclimatization period would begin on Aug. 24. The regular season was scheduled to begin on Friday, Aug. 28.
“Our turnouts have been great,” said Dakosty. “Our kids are excited, and we just want to try to keep it going and hopefully continue. But we’ll take what we can get right now. What they’re giving us, we’ll take it. The health and safety of the athletes comes first, obviously. And people with knowledge will make that decision and whichever one they decide, we’ll abide by.
“But we’ve come this far; we’re going to have heat acclimation on Monday, and I know this just threw me for a loop, and probably threw a lot of people for a loop, because it seemed like we reached this point and we were good to go, and then all of a sudden everything was turned upside down. But I think what we have to realize is that these are not typical times and we have to be flexible, and our young people are flexible, and we as adults have to be flexible and just continue to do what we can that’s in the best interest of our players and the powers that be will hopefully make a decision that is in the best interest of the schools themselves and the athletes and students.”
It’s been an adjustment for even the most veteran administrators and coaches, but it’s one they’re happy to make.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I be thinking that after three kids hit a five-man sled, because they’re spaced out every other one, that after their session and before the next one begins I would wipe down the bags and spray it down with sanitizer,” said Mark Rosenberger, Jim Thorpe’s football coach the past 22 seasons. “It’s crazy, but we’re doing what we can at Jim Thorpe, and I’m sure every school and every team right now is doing the same to have the opportunity to play. And the only way it’s going to happen, is if we keep our players and our coaches safe and healthy.”
The Jim Thorpe football team postponed all summer workout practice sessions for 14 days in July after a player tested positive for the coronavirus.
“Moving forward, I think our program from Day 1 in July has been following the return to play plan to a T,” said Rosenberger. “The safety measures that we put in place as a school district and as a coaching staff I think are impeccable. And the reason we’re doing that is to keep our players safe, keep our coaches safe and give us the best opportunity to play a game in September.”
There is still much to be discussed between now and then, but simply having the chance to do so is all anyone could ask for.
“We’re fortunate that there’s still hope, that’s the main thing,” said Spotts. “You never want to close the door on anything until you’ve exhausted all options. And I think we’ve done everything we can and then some, and we’ve all adjusted to what we had to do and everybody’s working together. We have an end goal in mind to get these student athletes back on the field, or the court, or wherever they’re playing, and we just want to have an opportunity. And I think if you ask any student-athlete out there, they just want an opportunity, and with whatever guidelines are presented to us, we’ll make it work.”