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Central League officially delays start of fall sports

adnor's Jahmir Dixon, spinning away from a Lower Merion defender, led Delco in receptions and receiving yards and touchdowns last year (Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group)

The PIAA’s decision last Friday to allow individual school districts and leagues to move forward with fall sports starting Monday created confusion for some athletes in the Central League.

A number of athletes called their respective schools and coaches looking for answers, according to Springfield’s Glenn Mallon, chairperson of the Central League athletic directors. Generally, the kids wanted to know if they should begin the process of getting ready for the season or would they have to wait to get clearance from their respective schools?

As an answer, the league’s athletic directors decided to release a statement Sunday to clarify the situation.

“On Friday, August 21st, the PIAA Board of Directors voted to allow member schools to begin fall sports on Monday, August 24th,” the statement read.

“Based on the guidance from the Chester and Montgomery County Health Departments, Central League schools have agreed to delay the start of the 2020 fall season.

“CAL schools may continue voluntary workouts while awaiting further instruction from our local school boards and superintendents.”

The timing of the PIAA “decision” was to allow for a week of “heat acclimatization” for football. There are 12 teams in the Central League spread out across Delaware, Chester and Montgomery counties.

“The superintendents are meeting this week (Tuesday) and then they’ll be briefing all their school boards to see what direction we’re going to go in,” Mallon said. ”(The PIAA’s announcement) came out late Friday and with the weekend you can’t really address it until Monday. It was just confirmation on what the process will be with us.”

Any decision the superintendents come to then has to be approved by the league’s individual school boards before practice can begin and games can be played. Although no dates have been set, the likelihood is that if there is a fall sports season it won’t start until October because all the schools in the league are beginning the school year with remote learning until at least the first month of the school year.

Gov. Tom Wolf has made it clear that he does not think schools can conduct athletics if classes are being conducted in a virtual setting, although there is no state-wide mandate stipulating that students must be physically in the building for athletics to be held.

One thing is clear: If there is a season in the Central League it will be league-only contests.

“That was the only thing we did decide at one point this summer, to not play a nonleague schedule,” Mallon said. “We want to keep travel to a minimum and play games against schools that had the same process through the summer, which all of us have through those voluntary workouts. So that’s the only concrete thing we have agreed on since last March.”

At least two Central League programs have taken to Twitter in the past few days in an effort to convince the school boards not to cancel the season.

Radnor football (@RadnorFootball) tweeted: “Radnor Township students, parents and concerned citizens: Please share your thoughts regarding fall sports by emailing the RTSD board: boardcomments@rtsd. @RadnorTSD @RadnorFootball.”

The twitter account for Garnet Valley field hockey (@GVFieldHockey) retweeted a tweet from @JagNationGV, which bills itself as the official Twitter of Garnet Valley’s student section: “Try to save our fall seasons, send your thoughts on why we should play to the school board … gvsb@garnetvalley.org. Be respectful and send in your opinion on the situation!!!!!”

“It’s a waiting game at this point,” Radnor field hockey coach Katie Maguire said. “We had voluntary practice last week and my girls were pretty excited to have that, at least. It was a little bit of normalcy in this crazy time. The girls are pretty upset. They just want to play, be together and get some kind of freedom back in their lives.”

Radnor football coach Tom Ryan said he does not envy the decisions that have to be made by the superintendents and the school boards. They have to balance the health and safety of an entire school district community during a global pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 176,000 people in the United States and more than 800,000 worldwide.

“I wouldn’t want their job,” Ryan said. “These are some big decisions that are being made. We all know this thing is real and I get it, but I’m worried about my players’ mental well-being. The kids have been locked up from March until June and you could feel the energy at workouts.

“These kids were so excited to be there. They were policing themselves. We followed all the CDC guidelines to the letter with face masks and social distancing. I didn’t even have to say six feet anymore, especially with my seniors. The first day we met I said, ‘If we don’t do this the right way our season is not going to happen,’ and that’s all I had to tell them. The other coaches in the Central League that I talk to are all doing the same thing. These kids want to be there.”

At this point, most coaches and athletes will take any kind of a season, even an abbreviated one.

“If my kids get to play one game, it’s better than zero,” Ryan said. “We’ll take one game.”

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