Pioneer Athletic Conference sports ‘full steam ahead’ as plan takes shape

The Pioneer Athletic Conference’s plan to play continues to take shape for the fall.

The league leadership met Tuesday to further establish the outlook of the fall sports season that has been delayed and affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

One takeaway can’t be overlooked though: there will be PAC athletics this fall.

“At this point we see ourselves moving forward,” PAC President and Pottsgrove High School Principal Dr. Bill Ziegler said. “As of now, we are scheduled full steam ahead.”

Not all PAC schools and teams are all systems go, a fact not lost on Ziegler and league leadership.

“We have a number of schools that are out of fall sports and we support the design of an alternate fall schedule, such as in the spring, we would support that,” Ziegler said. “I know a number of our schools in the conference would like to see that happen.”

At present, Boyertown, Methacton, Owen J. Roberts, Perkiomen Valley, Spring-Ford and Upper Perkiomen are participants in all sports. Pottsgrove (all sports except football), Upper Merion (tennis, cross country, golf) and Phoenixville (golf, singles tennis) are partial participants while Norristown, Pope John Paul II and Pottstown have opted out of all interscholastic competition in the fall.

The participation list is not necessarily final though. While most participating schools are expected to proceed as currently aligned, only Upper Perkiomen, Pottsgrove, Upper Merion and Phoenixville have had official fall sport-specific school board votes.

During this week’s league meeting, league-wide athlete screening guidelines were approved. Additionally, the league will allow schools to seek out non-league competition after the completion of league play.

Non-league opportunities will be available, but not as abundant as a normal season: the Central League and Ches-Mont League have indefinitely postponed fall sports, as has the majority of the Philadelphia Catholic League. Twenty-one of 24 schools in the Suburban One League are competing in fall sports.

For league scheduling, the PAC is exploring ‘pods’ where teams in field hockey or soccer would play twice — home and away — in a given week.

“We’re looking at scheduling in ‘pods’ in field hockey and boys and girls soccer to help with contact tracing,” Ziegler said. “That way we keep within the same grouping of kids the whole week.”

The league is on course for Sept. 7 as the start of preseason, with interscholastic competitions allowed to begin Sept. 25. Golf matches will be afforded an earlier start, on Sept. 14.

Scheduling is taking shape at present with the goal of them being set in the near future.

“We don’t have an actual deadline, but we’re working on it right now and with competition starting Sept. 25 we understand the importance of getting that out pretty quickly so our goal is to have that out sooner than later,” Ziegler said.

The state of Pennsylvania relaxed its spectator guidelines on Wednesday. Spectators may now attend sporting events but will count toward state limits (25 indoor, 250 outdoor) and must adhere to social distancing and facial covering guidelines

The Pioneer Athletic Conference playoffs and championships have traditionally been a fixture of the mid-October calendar. But in a year that has featured constant questions over any games happening, league playoffs have not been discussed for now.

“Right now we’re just trying to get one game in,” Ziegler said, keenly aware of the unpredictable current climate.

The league’s uniform screening guidelines include a screening questionnaire and temperature check from a member of the student-athlete’s home district. A temperature more than 100.3 (NFHS guideline) will disqualify a participant. The screening information will be recorded and signed off on by the athletic director, trainer or principal.

Boyertown is currently in the midst of a COVID-19 related shutdown after a football player tested positive last Friday. Ziegler expressed that the league intends to stay flexible with anything that comes its way in the most unusual of seasons.

“We understand that at any time a school could be shut down due to a COVID related case, but we talked internally about still moving forward and making the best of it as a league. If a school can’t participate, we’ll look at rescheduling,” Ziegler said.

“We know how important athletics are to kids so we want to do everything we can to support them and get them playing safely.”

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