Decisions concerning high school athletics this fall have been agonizing for principals everywhere, and Jason Sherlock is no exception.
The West Chester Henderson principal not only represents his Warriors, but he is also president of the Ches-Mont League.
Oh, and he also has two sons who are student-athletes at rival West Chester East.
On Aug. 28, the Ches-Mont announced it was postponing all fall season competitions due to the health risks of COVID-19, but left open the possibility of playing the season at some point in 2021.
While explaining the rationale, Sherlock stressed two things over and over again: This was not a decision anybody wanted to make. And the fall season has been postponed, not cancelled.
“There is a lot of disappointment, and I understand that,” said Sherlock, who has been designated as the spokesperson for the league on this issue. “We’ve received some (negative comments in) emails and I’ve seen some things written in social media. But having said that, there is also a lot of support, as well, because the most important thing is to keep our kids safe.”
The league principals voted 12-0 in favor of shutting down the season, with Bishop Shanahan abstaining. Four days earlier, the Philadelphia Archdiocese announced that all of its schools would not be playing in 2020, which meant Shanahan’s fate had already been determined, and led to its vote to abstain. The voting came after a meeting that took about 90 minutes.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, by any means,” Sherlock said. “This was not a three-minute meeting and done. But at this time I think it is the right decision.”
It is very clear that the Ches-Mont is tying its decision to recommendations by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Chester County Health Department. In late July, Wolf “strongly recommended” that fall sports be suspended until 2021. The CCHD recommended a similar approach following its meeting on Aug. 14.
“We are kind of pigeon-holed,” Sherlock said. “The recommendation is that all schools should be virtual and – along with the governor’s recommendation – that sports should start no earlier than January 1st.”
The Central League – which includes Conestoga – also announced on Aug. 28 that the fall season would be postponed.
“I would imagine (the Central League) is probably in the same boat as us because they are following the same recommendations from the (Chester County) Health Department [Delaware County does not have its own health department, and partners with Chester County’s on most issues].
“These recommendations put school districts in a tough position. But we are not cancelling the season for anyone,” Sherlock said. “We are postponing the season and anxiously awaiting the next report from the Chester County Health Department in early October.”
According to its press release, the Ches-Mont has requested that the District 1 Committee explore alternate solutions that will allow fall athletes to compete at a later date.
Separately, sources confirm that Unionville High School is petitioning the CCHD to reconsider recommendations for lower-risk sports like cross country, golf and tennis.
“This has to be fluid,” Sherlock said. “If some of the recommendations change, we will revisit it.
“Some (non-high school) youth sports continue to happen, but we are not in the business of making a profit here. We are in the business of keeping kids safe.”
The Ches-Mont’s move mirrors that of most leagues in the Delaware Valley, which includes highly populated areas in District 1 and 12. As of now, no one is playing sports in District 12. In District 1, most members of the Suburban One League (Montco and Bucks) are still planning to play, and roughly half of the Pioneer Athletic Conference (mostly Montco) say they will play.
“If you go out to rural Sullivan County, for example, they have a total of 10 (coronavirus) cases, so they are able to move forward,” Sherlock pointed out. “We are in an area closer to Philadelphia and larger population centers.
“Based on the recommendations, it’s just not feasible to have competitions at this time.”
Sherock’s eldest son, Jon, is a senior swimmer and drum major for the Vikings’ band. His younger son, Josh, is a freshman who plays basketball and baseball.
“There are many principals in the Ches-Mont that this bothers, including myself,” Sherlock said. “We are all into education for kids, and not having them able to play right now is hard. All the principals and athletic directors are proponents of what it means for students to be involved in athletics.
“I see with my own kids, the mental health of it. They are struggling, and they need an outlet. It’s something we all want to see happen, but it has to be done in a safe way.”
To address the social aspect of athletics, all public schools in the Ches-Mont are currently moving forward with off-season workouts. There is still hope the lower-risk sports could get the OK at some point this fall.
“I think you can look at each individual sport,” Sherlock said. “However, the recommendation is that all competitions not be held until January 1st, it kind of ties our hands a bit.”
For the rest, the Ches-Mont is hoping that sports like football, soccer and volleyball can have seasons in 2021. That would potentially mean staging fall, winter and spring seasons in a compressed period of roughly six months.
“I certainly think it can be done, especially if we extend a little bit beyond the school year,” Sherlock said. “I’m not talking about going to August or anything. We have six months for three seasons, and that’s something that can be done. But it has to go through the PIAA and the District 1 Committee.
“We are also looking to ask the PIAA for alternate options so that there won’t be overlapping of sports. We don’t want to put a kid in a position where they have to choose one sport over another. I think we can do it in a way where you sandwich the fall season between the winter and spring seasons.”
Sherlock recognizes, however, that all sports in 2021 will likely be tied to a vaccine. He also acknowledged that liability issues played a major role in the Ches-Mont’s course of action.
“It is a huge issue,” he said. “When you have the PSAC and the Big Ten cancel their fall seasons, and then you have the recommendations of your local school board, if you go against that, it would be a huge liability issue.”