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Winter sports in the Ches-Mont League very much ‘in a holding pattern right now’

LONDON GROVE >> Several weeks out, the status for winter high school sports in Chester County is in familiar territory to where were were about three weeks prior to the start date of the fall season.

Which is to say things are up in the air.

“We are just kind of in a holding pattern right now,” said Great Valley girls’ basketball coach Alex Venarchik. “We don’t want to jump to any conclusions. Right now we are just kind of waiting for all of the powers that be to come together and finalize a plan.”

Will it be a plan to play basketball, wrestling, ice hockey and swimming this winter despite the global health crisis? Will it be league-only contests as it’s been this fall? Or could rising COVID-19 rates wind up forcing a postponement or cancellation for the majority of local teams that play in the Ches-Mont league?

“With so much uncertainty, I don’t know how much I have to offer you as no decisions have been made here yet,” said Oxford Athletic Director Mike Price.

Amidst the question marks, there are a few key dates that will likely provide some answers. The most important is Friday, where all of the Ches-Mont athletic directors and presidents will meet.

If that results in a plan to move forward with competitions, then the spotlight shifts to school board meetings for each individual district, which would presumably have to give the OK.

One of the few decisions that has been reported has to do with ice hockey, a winter sport that is not sanctioned by the PIAA, and would be well into its season already at this point. The Inter-County Scholastic Hockey League will not play until after the new year, at the earliest.

“I’m sure they will hash out some of the logistical stuff on Friday,” said Unionville boys’ basketball coach Chris Cowles. “After that we’re looking forward to a Nov. 16th (school) board meeting in our district and winter sports being approved.”

When asked his gut feeling, Cowles said: “I think we will definitely have a basketball season. The success of the fall season gives it all more credence.”

But there is still a bit more uncertain right now. Avon Grove Athletic Director, Kyle Christie, admitted that he is assuming the winter sports situation will be discussed and voted on during Friday’s meeting.

“I don’t know exactly what will be discussed, but I think it is going to be about the winter season,” he said.

Venarchik last saw his squad on March 11th in a state playoff game in Chambersburg. The next day, all winter sports were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve seen a few of my players in class but about 90 percent of the players I haven’t seen since March,” he pointed out.

“I dawned on me that this was the first summer and fall where I haven’t done any basketball in 21 years going back to my first year as a student-teacher. It’s just been weird.”

The timing for a possible return is also a looming issue. November 20th is the date set by PIAA guidelines for the official start of winter sports tryouts and practices, which means that time is now of the essence.

“I would like to know as soon as possible,” Christie acknowledged. “Hopefully this Friday we will have everything figured out.”

In order to get a jump on a possible winter season, Avon Grove began voluntary winter sports workouts last Monday. The first week will focus on fitness and conditioning, followed by a week of individual drills and another week of small group drills.

“Because they are all indoor sports, everything we are doing is masked,” Christie added. “Volleyball did it this fall, so I don’t see a reason why we can’t do it with some of the winter sports.”

The Unionville boys have been attending unofficial outdoor workouts at nearby Patton Middle School since late-June. According to Cowles, the team has been working on “skill-stuff and some of our concepts.

“I think our guys have been committed and we’ve been fortunate enough to stay together as a team as much as we possibly can,” he added. “We’ve tried to make the most of it. There are a lot of things out of our control, but we fell like we are decently prepared.”

When the Ches-Mont reversed an earlier decision and decided to belatedly play fall sports in late September, it cited recommendations and parameters set up by the Chester County Health Department. The CCHD will reportedly once again have a major impact on what happens this winter, especially as it relates to insurance liabilities.

“If the Chester County Health Department makes a recommendation that would restrict us from getting insurance for our student-athletes, then that would prevent us from moving ahead,” Christie said. “So far, to my knowledge, there is nothing from the CCHD that would restrict it right now.”

Look for the Ches-Mont members to vote and then stick together with the majority regardless the outcome.

“It will be a league decision. That’s how the fall season shook out,” Christie pointed out.

“We just want to be ready to go at it, and do it in a safe manner,” Vanarchik added.

“The one thing I’ve learned in all of this is that the most consistent thing is change.”

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