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PIAA clears fall school sports to begin

The governing body for Pennsylvania interscholastic sports decided Friday to move forward with the fall season, rejecting the governor’s recommendation that all youth sports be postponed until 2021 to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The board of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association had delayed the start of fall sports by two weeks after Gov. Tom Wolf on Aug. 6 urged that scholastic and recreational youth sports be put off until January, citing the pandemic.

The PIAA had said it was blindsided and “tremendously disappointed” by Wolf’s recommendation — which was not binding — and insisted that fall sports could be held safely. For his part, Wolf has pointed out that major collegiate leagues have independently canceled fall sports.

The board voted 25-5 on Friday to allow high school football, soccer, tennis, field hockey and other fall sports to go on as planned. There was no discussion.

Some school districts and leagues have already thrown in the towel on a fall season, including those in Philadelphia, Reading and Harrisburg, saying the risk of spreading the virus is too great. Others districts plan to play now that the PIAA has signed off.

Several Pennsylvania high schools have already reported virus cases among athletes, prompting temporary shutdowns of sports programs.

One league, the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, which has over 200 member schools in 10 counties, struck a separate agreement with the Allegheny County Health Department that will allow fall sports in the Pittsburgh area to go on — despite the county’s 50-person limit on outdoor gatherings.

The agreement, announced Friday, will allow the WPIAL to get around the limit by counting each sideline as its own, separate gathering, called a “pod,” with the players on the field constituting a third pod. Each pod, the agreement says, will be limited to 50 people or less. Football teams, in particular, would’ve had trouble playing in Allegheny County if the 50-person gathering limit had been strictly imposed.

The PIAA, citing a statewide outdoor gathering limit of 250, has prohibited spectators at fall sporting events.

Most of the seats on the 32-member PIAA board are filled with representatives from member schools, with school boards, school administrators, athletic directors and coaches, among others, also represented. The state Department of Education also has a seat.

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