No spectators allowed, according to new PIAA covid-19 guidelines

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Wednesday, July 29, 2020 | 6:08 PM


High school sports remain on schedule for the fall, but the new PIAA covid-19 guidelines approved Wednesday describe a season unlike any other.

Most notably, there will be no spectators, unless the state Department of Education changes its position, PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said. The 25 pages of return-to-competition guidelines provided game-day advice for social distancing, health screenings, sanitation and other topics.

The information was tailored for teams, coaches and officials.

Many of the guidelines were similar to health and safety plans already in place at individual schools. Athletes aren’t required to wear face coverings while competing but must during periods of inactivity. Handshakes are nixed. Athletes shouldn’t share uniforms, towels or other equipment.

But the PIAA also provided protocols for when a team has a covid-19 case among its players or coaches.

That team must shut down for 14 days, Lombardi said, following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols. The school must inform teams it previously played, in accordance with CDC guidelines, and notify its next opponent “in a reasonable time frame.”

Missed regular-season games can be recorded as “no contest” rather than forfeits, if the schools and PIAA district committee agree.

The PIAA also provided detailed lists of sport-specific guidelines, such as the recommendation footballs be cleaned and sanitized throughout the game. Teams can continue to use ball boys on the sidelines, but those kids need to wear gloves and be supervised by an adult.

Cross country meets should consider staggered, wave or interval starts. Volleyball teams shouldn’t switch benches during a match.

“We tried to create a shell, not every little detail down the rabbit hole,” Lombardi said. “But to give guidelines and guidance of high-consideration items that need to be done on a daily basis.”

The board voted 29-3 to approve the guidelines.

The information was drawn from multiple sources, including the Pa. Department of Health and the PIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. The SMAC last week unanimously endorsed fall sports starting on time.

“They are adamant that if each and every one of us at our schools follows our return-to-school as well as our health-and-safety plans … we have a chance to protect ourselves, protect others and protect the season,” Lombardi said.

Principals Association representative Jonathan Bauer, one of the three no votes, said he was concerned about differences between these PIAA guidelines and those released by the state Education Department for academics.

“The principals of Pennsylvania are responsible for the safety of students during the academic program and the athletic program,” Bauer said. “With that inconsistency between the guidelines, we cannot vote for this document.”

Fall sports will start Aug. 10 with heat acclimatization for football. Practices for all sports begin the following Monday, Aug. 17.

Some neighboring states have delayed fall sports, but the PIAA plans to stay on schedule, barring actions from the state government. The PIAA board on Wednesday did approve an alternate start date in mid-September, but that delay is optional.

Fall sports are cross country, football, field hockey, golf, girls tennis, girls volleyball, soccer and water polo.

Lombardi said the PIAA conferred with Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration while finalizing the guidelines.

“We’ve tried to incorporate their suggestions into the guidelines we’ve developed,” he said.

Among the football guidelines, the sideline box for teams is extended to the 10-yard lines, giving players more room to stand. Also, teams should reduce the number of players on the sideline.

Football players should keep their mouth guards in their mouth throughout competition. If removed, it should be disinfected before reinsertion. Face shields that are integrated into the helmet and attach to the facemask are recommended.

Electronic scoring is permitted for regular-season golf competition.

Soccer teams are instructed to hold socially distant pre-game, halftime and post-game meetings off the playing surface, when possible.

The most drastic change is regarding spectators. None will be allowed, at least to start. The state Education Department released return-to-school guidelines that prohibit spectators from attending school-sports contests.

According to the PIAA guidelines, “should spectators eventually be permitted to attend contests, we anticipate that such attendance will be subject to some important limitations.”

The state also maintains a 250-person limit on outdoor gatherings.

The PIAA guidelines say spectators from different households must be 6 feet apart. Adults must wear face masks, and they shouldn’t enter the field of play or bench areas.

“If by chance spectators are allowed, we put some directions in there for them,” Lombardi said. “We didn’t say spectators aren’t allowed. … We follow the guidance that has been put out.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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