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Inter-Ac League suspends sports through Dec. 31

Episcopal Academy's Kelly Smith, left, winds up to shoot against Hill School in the PAISAA final last season. If Smith, the Daily Times Player of the Year, is to have a senior season in field hockey, it will be after the New Year.

Another area high school league has fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic. The Inter-Academic League announced Wednesday that it has suspended all athletic competition through Dec. 31.

The decision was made in a unanimous vote by the heads of schools and athletic directors and includes fall sports as well as the start of the winter season. The league announced its decision on its website.

“This decision was made given the unprecedented health concerns we face in our community and in consideration with Gov. Wolf’s strong recommendation, as well as updated policy recommendations from CHOP PolicyLab, the league said in the statement.

“The Inter-Academic Athletic League members are deeply aware of the importance of athletics to our student-athletes and communities,” the statement went on to say. “This difficult decision was not made lightly, and every effort was made to maintain our fall athletic season. We are deeply saddened that this was not possible.”

The Inter-Ac becomes the fifth league in Southeastern Pennsylvania to pull the plug on athletic competition, joining the Del Val, Catholic, Philadelphia Public and Friends’ School Leagues. The schools affected are Academy of Notre Dame, Agnes Irwin, Baldwin, Episcopal Academy, Germantown Academy, The Haverford School, Malvern Prep, Penn Charter and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.

Among the sports involved are football, boys and girls soccer, field hockey, volleyball, girls tennis and boys golf in the fall, and boys and girls basketball and swimming, and wrestling in the winter.

“It’s obviously frustrating and disappointing,” said Episcopal Academy athletic director and football coach Todd Fairlie. “It’s crushing for a lot of people. We wish we could get going and do it right now, but it’s just hard given everything that’s going on. There are so many layers to everything and the information is changing constantly.”

The decision came three weeks after the league announced that it would delay the start of the fall sports season until Sept. 14.

“It’s disappointing,” Haverford School AD Mike Murphy said,” specifically for seniors entering their last fall seasons. It’s especially disappointing if they’re a one-sport athlete.”

Both Fairlie and Murphy made it a point to say that the fall sports season has been postponed, not canceled. The league has a plan in place to play all sports in three seven-week seasons beginning in the New Year that would consist of league-only competition. However, it has not been determined if that would follow a fall-winter-spring schedule format or if it would start with the winter season, then move to fall sports and then spring sports, like Delaware.

“There’s a lot of logistics and planning to consider,” Murphy said. “You have to look at schools that are coed having two seasons run together. That make things difficult because girls and boys tennis, for example, are in opposite seasons.

“We’re considering it more like three seasons rather than fall, winter and spring. Cross country usually runs in the fall, but we may move that into another season. We’re not there yet. Its three seven-week seasons and see what could work.”

In the meantime, member schools may maintain conditioning, skill development and sport practices from September 14 through November 20 in accordance with Gov. Wolf’s guidelines and CHOP PolicyLab requirements, according to the statement.

“We’re treating it like we treat our summer which is each school determines what works best for them while working within the guidelines that are out there to do so safely,” Murphy said. “With league schools being in different counties we didn’t want to set a one-size-fits-all type of things because of those variations.

“For that period each school will determine what works best for them from running conditioning workouts all the way up to if guidelines say you can have balls and practices, you can do that, allowing schools to determine what they’re going to do there. Then we’ll revisit after Nov. 20 looking to say if we’re starting a season, whatever it may be, Season 1, on Jan. 1, what makes the competitive balance most healthy we’re all going to adhere to those rules for the next month.”

A lot of people have their fingers crossed.

“As a league we will continue to evaluate and if things improve and we can move things up, people would be happy as heck,” Fairlie said. “It’s putting a plan in place and we had a good plan in place to start Sept. 14, but you have to be flexible. We do have a plan in place that we do feel good about. We worked hard on that and it is an effort to give every kid a chance for a season. But if we’ve learned anything, putting a plan in place two months doesn’t mean that’s how its going to be because things change every week.”

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