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Pioneer Athletic Conference sets spectator rules, says no to league playoffs

The Pioneer Athletic Conference established spectator guidelines for the fall season during its Board of Directors meeting Monday.

Spectators at gated athletic events will be limited to two tickets allotted per home participating student-athlete.

League correspondence to its member schools included the following restrictions: “All athletic contests are closed to the general public; no away spectators will be permitted into the game; no walk-up ticket purchases will be available; no person is permitted without an approved Pioneer Athletic Conference ticket.”

“The Pioneer Athletic Conference understands the importance of spectators being a part of the game and experience for our student athletes,” stated the league in its announcement. “We believe that spectators add an important piece to athletic events and serve as a venue for our student athletes to be supported, uplifted, and encouraged during and after the contest. This is why our schools are encouraged to livestream the event for everyone’s viewing.”

Additionally, away team bands will not be permitted at football games.

The PAC Board also decided on no Pioneer Athletic Conference playoffs this fall. A mid-October fixture of the league in most sports for the past 15 years, the league is prioritizing regular season competition and maximizing the dates available to compete ahead of the District 1 playoffs.

Most outdoor sports would not exceed Pa.’s gathering restrictions of 250 people under the PAC’s regulations. Football games expect to exceed 250 with tickets available to participating football players, cheerleaders and band members, but social distancing can be maintained in a space the size of a football stadium.

The spectator regulations come at the same time as the matter is being battled over at the government level and around the state.

PAC leadership is leaving the door open to reevaluate its regulations throughout the fall according to PAC President and Pottsgrove High School Principal Dr. Bill Ziegler.

“We are constantly and closely monitoring the situation in our conference, communities and state and will adjust accordingly if we need to,” Ziegler said. “I see this as (the guidance) right now but certainly we will examine, review and adjust accordingly. Everything is so fluid right now.”

Pennsylvania has adhered to guidance from Gov. Tom Wolf and state officials that restrict gatherings to 250 outdoor and 25 indoors since going green in late June. Those restrictions intended to prevent the spread of coronavirus have come under fire in recent weeks with a federal judge ruling the limits unconstitutional last week. 

The Pennsylvania legislature had its say on the matter on Sept. 9 by passing House Bill 2787, which sought to give school districts the power to decide on spectator limits. Gov. Wolf vetoed the bill Monday, but both chambers of the Pa. General Assembly are expected to override Wolf’s veto after the bill was previously approved by veto-proof two-thirds majorities.

Asked Tuesday if schools now can surpass the 250- and 25-person limits, Wolf said: “I’m not a lawyer but since the stay was turned down, it sounds like at least for the moment, I guess, that court ruling stands.”

The PAC’s ticketing arrangement does not apply to non-gated events, which cannot be regulated in an unconfined space. Instead, spectators will be asked to appropriately social distance and wear face coverings.

“We’re going to work to encourage social distancing and mask wearing in non-gated events. Many of our JV and middle school programs may not have a fenced-in area and as a result our districts are going to be working to ensure our people are social distancing and not gathering in large groups,” Ziegler said.

With no PAC playoffs, league champions will be determined through regular season winning percentage with respect to the possibility of COVID-related shutdowns. 

Thus far, three PAC programs have experienced preseason shutdowns due to positive COVID tests – the Owen J. Roberts and Perkiomen Valley girls soccer teams and the Pottsgrove girls volleyball team. Boyertown shut down all programs during voluntary workouts after the positive test of a football player.

The Pioneer Athletic Conference season begins Friday, Sept. 25. Seven schools – Boyertown, Methacton, Owen J. Roberts, Perkiomen Valley, Spring-Ford, Upper Perkiomen and now Pottsgrove – are competing in football. Pottsgrove reversed an earlier decision on Tuesday night to compete in football and will have its first game Oct. 9. The other six schools are holding a five-game league schedule with non-league contests allowed to follow if a team is not participating in the district playoffs.

Other sports such as soccer and field hockey will also include Pottsgrove in a 7-team PAC. Pope John Paul II, Pottstown and Norristown suspended participation in fall sports while Phoenixville (singles tennis, golf) and Upper Merion (cross country, golf and tennis) opted for limited participation.

Soccer is pursuing an 11-game schedule, one game shy of a balanced home-and-away format. Field hockey teams have scheduled 9-10 games.

Individual sports such as tennis and golf will still hold district-qualifying events similar to the traditional championship format.

District 1 and PIAA playoff brackets have not been released to date but both organizations held meetings Wednesday.

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