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D11 adjusts and adapts to changes

Through the first seven weeks of the high school football season, there have only been two weeks where no team in the Times News coverage area has had its schedule impacted by COVID-19.

This week’s OVERTIME column will look at District 11’s policy - or lack of a policy - concerning COVID-impacted games, and explain why some games have been canceled while others have just been postponed a couple of days.

We talked to District 11 football chairman Jason Zimmerman of Northwestern to get some insight into the situation.


The cases and cancellations started before the season had officially kicked off.

On the eve of opening night, both Panther Valley and Pleasant Valley were hit with cases of COVID in their football programs. Both teams canceled their opening-week games - Panther Valley against Northern Lehigh and Pleasant Valley against Parkland. Northern Lehigh quickly got to work and within 24 hours had a replacement opponent.

The opening week chaos proved to be a harbinger of what lied ahead.

Panther Valley was dealing with COVID, and had to cancel its Week 2 game against Schuylkill Haven.

In Week 3, COVID issues at Northern Lehigh forced it to move its game at Tamaqua from Friday to the following Monday.

Two weeks later, Notre Dame canceled its game with Jim Thorpe because of COVID problems on the team. But less than 24 hours after announcing the game was canceled, it was changed to a postponed game, and the date was switched from Friday to Monday.

Just two days after playing Jim Thorpe, Notre Dame announced more COVID cases on the team would force it to cancel its Week 6 contest against Tamaqua.

The official COVID score card for area teams through seven weeks of the season is:

• Four games postponed

• Two games moved from Friday to Monday

• One game where a new opponent had to be found

So who decides why some games have been canceled and others just postponed a couple of days?

Zimmerman said the answer lies in the fact that when it comes to COVID, all schools go by their own protocols.

“There is no standard District 11 policy (regarding COVID postponements and cancellations),” said Zimmerman. “Schools have their own unique COVID safety plans, health network partners, etc.

“A school determines if, when, and for how long their program needs to shutdown. As an example, one or two players may become COVID positive, and if the school’s pandemic team, health network partners, PA Dept. of Health, deem it would be best to shut the whole program down in an abundance of caution, that is what the school is going to do.”

Once the decision is made by a school to pause activities, it’s up to that school when it is going to restart.

“The determining factor for when teams can resume an activity is strictly up to the school’s pandemic team in accordance with their prescribed safety plan,” said Zimmerman. “Testing (of the athletes) is not and cannot be mandatory. It is, however, an option and if exercised, the individual may be able to return in a quicker time period, especially if vaccinated and the test result is negative.”

If a school determines it cannot safely play a game because of COVID issues, it must be rescheduled no later than the following Monday, or it will be considered a “no contest,” according to Zimmerman.

While no-contest means neither team receives a win or a loss, there is one circumstance where the possibility of a forfeit is on the table.

“If the team shutdown by COVID can reschedule by the Monday deadline and their opponent refuses to reschedule, then the team refusing to reschedule would need to forfeit,” explained Zimmerman. “That’s no different than any other situation such as weather, etc.

“If a rescheduled date is offered and the opponent is not willing to reschedule, then that would likely result in a forfeit as per PIAA Contest Contract Agreements. There are many variables, and this situation would need to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. It is not as black and white as some would want it to be. But ultimately, forfeiture is on the table if a team simply doesn’t want to play due to a shortened prep week for its upcoming game.”

There have been no COVID-based forfeits so far this season in District 11, which is something Zimmerman is extremely happy about.

“District 11 member schools have always been supportive of each other when unique situations occur,” he said. “The bottom line is kids want to play, and what is happening to school A this week could be happening to school B next week.

“School administrators have predominantly understood this reality, and accommodated each other whenever possible. In my over 20 years as Northwestern Lehigh’s Athletic Director, my colleagues and I have done a fairly nice job of treating each situation, and each other, the way we would prefer it be handled if we were in that same situation. I believe that’s the right thing to do, and I hope we never lose that.”

Zimmerman also talked about how the district is planning to handle any COVID-related issues once postseason play begins.

“The District 11 playoffs will be run extremely similar to last year,” he said. “The only real difference is rather than canceling a game right away (because of COVID), we will postpone until that Monday, and if the game cannot be played by that time, then the team who was not shut down will advance.”


WINNING STREAKS ... Northwestern and Palmerton both won this past Friday night, with the Tigers blanking Blue Mountain and the Blue Bombers routing Pine Grove.

Northwestern’s victory moved its record to a perfect 7-0. The last time the Tigers started a season with seven straight wins was 1996, when they went 9-0 before losing. Over the past 44 seasons, this is the 21st time an area team has started at least 7-0. Jim Thorpe and Lehighton have both done it five times, while Marian has accomplished the feat four times over that span.

Palmerton, meanwhile, has won five straight games since suffering a loss during the second week of the season. The five-game stretch is the most since 2008, when it had a six-game winning streak.


ALTERNATING DECISIONS ... Jim Thorpe and Northern Lehigh have both done something this season that rarely happens.

The two teams have alternated wins and losses through the first seven weeks of the year. The Bulldogs opened with a win, suffered a loss, won again, and so on to reach their current 4-3 record. The Olympians started with a loss before winning, and then followed that same pattern to a 3-4 mark.

Over the past 44 seasons, only three other times has an area team alternated decisions that long to start a season. Marian, in 2004, and Tamaqua, in 2003, both went eight straight weeks with opposite results, while Jim Thorpe went seven consecutive weeks in 1984.


LONG PICK-SIX ... Palmerton’s Matt Machalik not only stopped a Pine Grove scoring chance last week during the Bombers’ 51-7 win, but after he intercepted a pass at the goal line, he returned it 100 yards for a touchdown.

Over the past 30 seasons, Machalik is just the third area player to have a pick-six go at least 100 yards.

Tamaqua’s Ricky Cipko took an interception 102 yards for a score against North Schuylkill on Oct. 5, 2001, while Northern Lehigh’s Matt Sutjak also returned a pick 100 yards to the house against Palisades on Sept. 17, 2004.

Over that same time span, the Bombers’ longest pick-six had been a 96-yarder by Aaron Schweibinz on Oct. 28, 2005.


LENGTHY TD TOSS ... Northwestern opened its scoring last week against Blue Mountain when quarterback Justin Holmes threw an 85-yard touchdown pass to Cade Christopher.

Over the past 30 seasons, the Tigers have thrown 309 TD passes, but only one has covered more yardage than the one last Friday.

On Oct. 28, 2016, Deven Bollinger connected with Trevor Cunningham for an 86-yard touchdown pass.


O’DONNELL SCORING RUNS ... Lehighton’s Brady O’Donnell escaped for two long touchdown runs against Bangor last week. The Indians’ quarterback scored on a 63-yard run and then broke free for a 68-yard dash to the end zone.

Over the past 20 years - or a span of 225 games - there have only been two other times when a Lehighton player scored two TD runs of at least 60 yards in the same game.

The others to accomplish that feat were Cody Scherer (81 and 74 yards) on Oct. 27, 2017, and Robbie Frey (66, 62 and 67 yards) on Sept. 23, 2005.