Area coaches, teams ready for new challenges in the fall

The PIAA announced Wednesday that it plans to move forward with the start of high school sports this fall.

However, Pennsylvania health and education officials as well as Gov. Tom Wolf still could shut down sports across the state if data indicates that it is not safe due to COVID-19 concerns.

PIAA officials believe the numbers, and the extensive health measures that have been put in place, indicate it is safe to move ahead.

There will be many changes to the fall season.

The postseason will be shortened, with all sports to be completed by Thanksgiving. District football tournaments, as a result, will be truncated.

This is all in the effort to wrap up the fall before flu season hits.

For safety, the fields for the PIAA golf and cross country championships will be reduced.

News hits locally >> The PIAA’s nod to start fall sports is the first step.

“We’re very excited about the opportunity to get started,” said Cheltenham football coach Ryan Nase, who guided his team to the PIAA-5A State Final last year. “I think the PIAA did a great job of providing districts with many different options of how to have a season. With flexible start dates and scheduling options, it can certainly be done.

“The biggest hurdle for us,” Nase said, “will be how our school board plans to re-open for classes.”

That will be determined over the coming days.

“At our next school board meeting,” Nase said, “our superintendent will present a plan for a full virtual start. While the PIAA would still allow us to compete, I think it would be very difficult for us to gain the approval of the board and administration to allow athletes to play when students are not utilizing the building.”

Summer baseball has started throughout the area, with many safety precautions in place. The fall will be no different.

“In terms of the safety precautions, they are certainly unique but so are the times we’re in,” Nase said. “I don’t think it’s anything that can’t be done if everyone’s on board.

“We’ve had tremendous success in staying safe the last month during our voluntary offseason workouts and think we can get through a season the same way.”

Added Nase: “There is no group of people more creative than football coaches. We’ll find a way to get it done. We just need a chance.”

Starting up >> Currently, football heat acclimatization practices begin Aug. 10, with all other sports beginning practice Aug. 17. Contests begin Aug. 20 for golf, Aug. 24 for tennis, Aug. 28 for football and Sept. 4 for soccer, field hockey, girls volleyball, cross country and water polo.

Under the alternative plans, schools may choose to begin contests Sept. 14, with the football opener on Sept. 18, provided each sport (other than golf and tennis) maintains the standard three-week preseason.

There is a hybrid start plan.

Under that plan, sports can begin as late as Oct. 5. Schools will be permitted to play past the start of district playoffs, provided they do not qualify for the postseason.

The Board adopted a recommendation by the PIAA medical advisory committee that if one player on a team tests positive for COVID-19, the entire team will be quarantined for 14 days.

If a team can not play during the regular season due to a positive test, the contest can be rescheduled, or be considered “no contest.”

In that situation, a forfeit would not be awarded.

As far as the postseason, a team that can not play will forfeit its spot in the tournament.

The Board approved recommendations by the Football Steering Committee to allow players to wear face shields and suggested reduced travel rosters and a reduction of huddles.

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