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Gov. Wolf releases plan for high school sports to restart in Pennsylvania

Scenes like this, in which Garnet Valley football players go through a preseason workout, are closer to returning, with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Wednesday releasing guidelines that allow high school sports workouts to resume during the coronavirus pandemic. (Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group)

The day athletes, coaches and fans throughout Pennsylvania have been waiting for since sports were shut down by the coronavirus pandemic three months has finally arrived.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday that professional, collegiate, high school and amateur athletes throughout the Commonwealth can begin the process to return to action under modified health and safety guidelines.

For high school athletes, that means they can start to prepare for the fall season once their school develops a safety plan that meets the Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines for reopening.

Sports at every level were shut down by the pandemic in mid-March. Schools have been closed, which means athletes have been forced to train on their own without the benefit of school facilities ore instruction.

“It’s awesome because we haven’t been able to do stuff,” Matt Grapin, a junior running back/outside linebacker at Springfield, said when told of the news. “It will be good to be able to do stuff again.”

According to the release, public and private K-12 schools within the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) and the Pennsylvania Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA) located in counties in the yellow or green phase can resume voluntary sports-related workouts. Schools must first develop an athletic health and safety plan in alignment with the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Preliminary Guidance for Phased Reopening of Schools that is approved by the local board of directors and posted on the school’s website.

“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,” PIAA executive director, Dr. Robert A. Lombardi said in a statement. “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.”

The restart will not be like turning on a spigot. It will take time. There are a lot of logistical factors that have to be worked out before athletes and teams can begin to get together to work out or play games.

“We have to develop a plan (for a safe return),” Garnet Valley athletic director Seth Brunner said. “We have to get it approved by our board. We have to get it put on our website.”

“I’m excited @GovernorTomWolf and @PIAASports have set a path for our athletes to return to off-season workouts,” Strath Haven athletic director Pat Clancy tweeted. “We are still developing our local plan and will let coaches and athletes know how and when we can return. Looking forward to getting back to work!”

Brunner said that it would probably take a couple of weeks to devise a plan to have the athletes and coaches return safely.

“If we’re able to get going and hit the ground running July 1, I’ll be happy,” Brunner said.

While many questions have to be answered, it’s a step in the right direction.

“All kind of things are going to change in the way that you prepare, and that’s why we have different contingency plans based on what we’re going to be allowed to do and what we’re not going to be allowed to do,” Garnet Valley football coach Mike Ricci said. “I think the big positive here is that we’re moving in a direction that is moving toward us being able to play. We have to see what that’s going to be as we go along. “

The reopening guidelines are still governed by the three-step process to reopen the state. Since all counties have exited the red phase, only the yellow and green phase guidelines apply.

Under the yellow phase, which includes Delaware County and Southeastern Pennsylvania, gatherings are limited to 25 people. Indoor activities are limited to 50 percent of total occupancy. Yellow phase activities are restricted to athletes, coaches and staff. Gatherings are limited to 250 once an area enters the green phase.

“Pennsylvania has some of the best athletes and teams in the country and they can now begin to safely return to organized sports,” Gov. Wolf said in a statement. “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.”

Wolf said that as more public health information becomes available, his administration will work with impacted entities to release further guidelines which could impact fall, winter and spring seasons.

Under the reopening plan, college athletes and coaches will be allowed to return to campus in compliance with the Department of Health guidelines.

Professional sports team can practice provided they abide by their league and state health guidelines. To reopen, a team’s plan must include a process for testing and screening for COVID-19 and monitoring of all on-premises attendees. No spectators will be allowed in or directly outside of the site during the yellow phase.

Amateur and recreational sports not affiliated with K-12 school teams can hold games and practices once their area reaches the green phase. Youth sports are required to follow the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control.

All spectators are expected to follow social distancing guidelines. That includes wearing face coverings and not entering the field of play or bench areas. Parents should monitor their children for signs of the virus.

“I think it’s a huge step in the right direction,” Brunner said. “We have to be able to start doing stuff so that we can provide a safe space for these kids with protocols and guidelines so that they can do the things that they want to do in a safe environment.”

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