Smith: It’s time for Delaware County schools to start playing sports

Leaders of school districts in Delaware County continue to ignore calls demanding student-athletes return to the field this fall.

Their silence is cowardly.

The coronavirus is the real deal and it’s here to stay. Most leagues in Southeastern Pennsylvania plan to resume in January, but will the outlook be any different by then? Probably not. We continue to adjust as a society to this new way of life, and that should apply to high school athletes who too long have been told to sit and wait.

While the large majority of leagues in Pennsylvania resumed high school sports in the last week or so, all leagues in Delaware and Chester counties are sitting it out through the end of the year. In Delco, school administrators have taken the lead from the Chester County Health Department, which did not recommend the return of sports. However, there is enough evidence to suggest that putting teenagers back on the field can be done safely, provided everyone is following CDC guidelines and, frankly, not being stupid.

It does require cooperation from every high school athlete, coach and staff member to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved. That includes high school athletes being extra mindful of one’s family, friends and community.

Parents are fighting like heck for their children, but are still searching for answers from their respective school districts. Take Marple Newtown parent Brian Joslin, who has been busy advocating for his school’s student-athletes and writing well-researched letters to district leadership.

“A group of students and parents in Marple Newtown have been trying to get answers as to why we are not getting the answers that we want,” Joslin said in an email to the Daily Times. “I mean, we are not getting answers at all. We all understand that we are in the midst of a pandemic. We are not asking anybody to ignore that fact, but we would like to have a conversation to find out exactly what criteria is being used to determine return to play (and return to school for that matter).”

Marple Newtown and the rest of the Central League, which includes nine Delco members, were told they cannot play sports in the fall. The league postponed fall athletics last month, joining area leagues including the Del Val, Philadelphia Catholic, Inter-Academic and Ches-Mont. In a statement, the Central League said it was taking direction from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Chester and Montgomery County Health Departments, and the Governor’s Office. However, Gov. Tom Wolf never ordered the postponement of fall sports, although he didn’t recommend it, either.

Originally, parents from Marple Newtown were told that if the percentage of positive COVID rate was less than 3 percent of the population, the schools could return to play. Joslin and others found, based on information on the Chester County Health Department’s website, that Marple Newtown and all but one of the school districts in the Central League are below 3 percent positive rate.

In a follow-up letter to school administrators, Joslin wrote: “It is clear based on the data provided by the Chester County Health Department that Marple Newtown students are doing what needs to be done to get back to doing what they love. We should be rewarding that. We should be creating clear guidelines for return to activities/sports within our district, not based on other areas. If our children fall outside of those criteria at any point we remove them until numbers (they) fall back in place.”

It’s apparent that school leaders throughout Delco want it all — the peaceful protests, the angry letters and emails, the collective screaming of student-athletes — to disappear. 

But it’s not going away. Students and parents are taking this all the way and won’t give up until the games are back on.

Athletes continue to be loud and clear about their desire to play on social media platforms

“We are all in the fight together,” Marple Newtown lineman Ryan Lain recently posted to Twitter. “We need to overcome the authority that refuses to listen to our voices and continues to stay silent about their reasoning for keeping us out of sports and school. Together is the only way we can overcome this injustice. We will not give up!”

Local politicians are sticking up for the kids, too. Senator Tom Killion (R-Chester and Delaware) put in a request Monday to the Chester County Health Department rescind its recommendation that school and youth sports not be played until 2021.

“Now six months into challenges posed by COVID-19, it is clear we are well past a point of crisis,” Killion said in a letter to Chester County Health Director Jeanne Casner. “By all metrics, our Commonwealth and Chester and Delaware counties have the virus in check. The 472 hospitalizations statewide represent a more than 80 percent decrease in hospitalizations from the peak of the pandemic.”

Killion noted in other counties, including Bucks and Montgomery, transmission of the virus among athletes has been rare to nonexistent.

Ultimately, the decisions whether to play fall sports rest in the hands of school leaders. Even if county health departments don’t change their recommendations, any school district can follow the data and change course. 

It’s time to let the kids play.

To contact Matt Smith, email

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