The Phoenixville Area school board Monday night approved the return of fall sports competition in the district, with the exception of football. However, it looks like the Phantoms will still take the gridiron this fall.
In separate 6-3 votes, the board gave the go-ahead to cross country, soccer, field hockey and volleyball Monday. After voting Monday night against allowing football competition, a school board majority approved a plan Tuesday to play football games if all football players stay out of school and remain virtual students during the season.
A formal vote on the decision on football is set for next Monday, Oct. 19.
“I think the most important thing is, and I think people know this, it’s about the kids,” said Phoenixville Athletic Director Don Grinstead. “It’s about the kids and it was a tough blow last night for our (football) kids last night to hear they wouldn’t have an opportunity, and I think that their parents, our community felt that. We were really happy for all of our other sports teams.
“We certainly respected the board’s decision and understood that they were doing what they thought was best to keep our kids safe,” he added, “but I can’t even tell you how happy (the kids) are and how happy we are that it was revisited today, and it looks like we have a different alternative, which I can tell you kids are out here practicing and they’re really excited.”
Phoenixville approved the play of tennis and golf on Aug. 7 but suspended all other sports indefinitely at that time.
Phoenixville Superintendent Dr. Alan Fegley on Sept. 28 revised his athletics recommendation to allow the rest of fall sports, signaling a resumption of team-sport practices in anticipation of a return to play once board approval was met.
Phantom soccer teams played their season openers against Pope John Paul II on Tuesday while field hockey, volleyball and cross country are on schedule for their first competitions this week.
Phoenixville approved a hybrid model to return to in-person learning beginning Oct. 19 at Monday’s meeting. Its board members cited safety concerns as the deterrent to allowing football’s resumption, the sport being classified in the highest risk category from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), the PIAA and local levels.
Phoenixville’s ‘pandemic team’ that included administrators and teachers, recommended the start of fall sports except football. The recommendation followed guidelines issued by Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which is one of three sources the district is using for statistics to inform its decisions.
The administration, Superintendent Fegley reiterated, recommended including football in the opening of fall sports. Fegley also said that athletes and parents preferred pursuing fall play instead of an alternative spring season so as to not interfere with spring sports.
School Board member Laura Reed said she worried that because football has more contact, it has a higher risk that the athletes could then spread into the school, forcing it to close down again.
Tuesday’s decision to keep football players from returning to classroom instruction and stay in virtual learning until the completion of their seasons was a solution for that concern.
“As a Board, we realize this situation continues to be very challenging for our students, families, teachers, and staff,” Phoenixville School Board President Blake Emmanuel said in a press release. “We take our responsibilities very seriously, and none of these decisions are made lightly. We will continue to work with the Administration to make these coming transitions as smooth as possible for all involved.”
Phoenixville sports teams resumed preseason practice at the time of the administration’s recommendation change Sept. 28, allowing for the required 15 days to be met to be able to compete this week. The football team had been practicing in full pads with the prospect of playing a season opener this weekend.
Nearly all Pioneer Athletic Conference schools and teams have resumed fall sports competition. Boyertown, Methacton, Owen J. Roberts, Perkiomen Valley, Pottsgrove (excluding football), Spring-Ford and Upper Perkiomen were full participants from the start of the pandemic-delayed season, opening preseason Sept. 7 and play on Sept. 25. Pottsgrove football, Pope John Paul II, Upper Merion and Pottstown received the green light on a return to sports in the past two weeks.
Norristown was among the first schools in the state to cancel fall sports and has maintained that stance.
Norristown has banded with other opt-out schools – Del-Val League members Academy Park, Chester, Chichester, Penn Wood; Suburban One League’s Cheltenham and Harry S. Truman; and BCIAA’s Reading – to pursue an alternate season that would begin fall sports’ preseason March 1 and competitions March 15-16.
As for the programs getting back on the field, the Phoenixville soccer teams have eight games currently scheduled, two each against the PAC’s other late entrants, Pope John Paul II, Pottstown and Upper Merion. The field hockey and volleyball schedules are still being filled out while cross country runners will not be eligible to compete in district meets later this month.
The football team has a four-game schedule in place starting against Pottsgrove next Friday, Oct. 23. Grinstead mentioned it also remains possible the Phantoms play this upcoming weekend.
“We’re excited for all of our sports,” Grinstead said. “We’re playing soccer games right now. Our girls team is at home; our boys teams is playing at PJP right now; and our field hockey and volleyball teams will get in the fray this week as well. We’re just excited our kids get the chance to compete,” Grinstead said. “We know we gotta do it safely and we gotta really be smart about how we do things, but it’s really nice for our kids to have an opportunity.”