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PIAA moving back its team wrestling tournament

The PIAA Board of Directors voted unanimously Tuesday to postpone the Team Wrestling Championships until after the individual state tournament which is scheduled to finish March 13.

The move came as the state’s governing body for high school sports tries to give as much opportunity for regular season competition as possible following Gov. Tom Wolf’s suspension of interscholastic and youth sports until Jan. 4. PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi said by postponing the Team Wrestling Championships until after the individual postseason, it allows wrestling teams more competition days leading into the individual postseason.

The move was one of a number of decisions the board made Tuesday as it tries to navigate its way through the winter sports season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The board also voted unanimously to reduce the number of required preseason practice days for competition from 15 to 10 for the winter sports season only. That reduction in preseason practice requirements also comes with a formula for teams who have already completed a portion or all of its required preseason practice time in order to get them to competition as quickly as possible.

The Board of Directors also approved moving forward with a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to be excluded among the businesses required to comply with Right to Know requests. The lawsuit comes after Lombardi said the PIAA has tried since 2009 to go through legislative channels to have its status with Right to Know changed to no avail. According to Lombardi, it is the only non-profit corporation which is not a state-established entity included in the Right to Know laws.

“We’re not worried about access, and I don’t think anybody who has asked for anything we haven’t provided to them,” Lombardi said. “But when we get frivolous requests for eight years worth of every possible check written by 12 different districts and headquarters, we think that’s obscene, and what purpose does it serve? We want to be treated by every other association.”

The delay in the winter sports season ordered by Gov. Wolf nearly two weeks ago has forced the PIAA to alter its winter sports schedule over its last two board meetings. The Board voted earlier this month to push back the deadline for the completion of the winter sports regular season, as well as to push back the deadline for the completion of district tournaments. The Board also approved winter sports teams to compete in games, without exceeding the maximum number of contests allowed, until the final weekend of the state basketball tournament on March 27.

The combination of Wolf’s delay of interscholastic sports and the required number of preseason practices by the PIAA brought the Board to the decision of postponing the PIAA Team Wrestling Championships. With Jan. 8 being the earliest teams can compete, it would leave about only a month of regular-season competition before districts would have to host their district team wrestling tournaments with the state tournament to follow the weekend of Feb. 13.

By pushing back the state team tournament until after the state individual tournament on March 13, high school wrestling teams will have at least two more weeks of regular-season competition prior to the individual wrestling postseason. Lombardi said the PIAA is still assessing site availability for the team state tournament, but he could not say Tuesday what potential alternate sites other than the Giant Center in Hershey would be.

“I can say we’re going to put everything on the table to possibly have a team championship because it is important to the membership,” Lombardi said. “We met as the Wrestling Steering Committee and the consensus of the committee was to make all the effort we can to hold the tournament.”

The Board of Directors had previously voted to reduce the number of teams which would compete in the team state tournament. It also approved a plan to have only the semifinals and finals of the team tournament held at the Giant Center in Hershey. But Lombardi said the reduced number of teams at final site doesn’t necessitate moving away from the Giant Center. With the limitations on crowd gatherings indoors, a larger venue like the Giant Center would provide more potential fan access than other sites.

The date for the team wrestling state tournament has not yet been set, but both Lombardi and chief operating officer Mark Byers said the extension of the winter sports season provided the PIAA with the flexibility to move the team tournament. There was no consideration given to holding the individual and team tournaments at the same time, Lombardi said, because of the jockeying which occurs with weigh-ins for dual meets. The PIAA didn’t want the weight descent plans to be affected during the individual postseason by the strategy of the team tournament.

“This is going to help everyone get a regular season through the entire month of January and parts of February,” Lombardi said.

When it voted to reduce the number of preseason practice days Tuesday, the Board took into account the many schools around the state who have already completed the required number of preseason practices, or have at least taken a chunk out of that required number. When teams eventually return to practice — whether that is Jan. 4 or later, depending on the governor’s orders — at minimum teams will need four days of practice in accordance with the rule it passed earlier this month. That rule stated any teams missing 14 consecutive days of practice or competition due to COVID-19 related issues, must have four practice days before it can participate in games. And because teams have been suspended by the governor’s COVID-19 mitigation orders, four days of practice will be required when they return.

So if teams return to practice Jan. 4 as per the governor’s order, teams who have completed their minimum number of practice days can play games as early as Jan. 8. Teams who have yet to hold a practice this winter will need 10 practice days and wouldn’t be able to compete until Jan 15 at the earliest. Subsequently, for each day of practice teams have already held, one day is knocked off of the required number of practices it must hold to be able to compete in games. Any team who has completed six or more practice days already needs just the four days from Jan. 4-7 of practice to be allowed to play games.

For those sports which may have to use off-campus facilities – swimming, bowling, gymnastics and rifle – only five days of practice are required.

“We ran it by our health and medicine people and they said there’s no research which says 15 days is better than X-amount of days, so they supported this tiered return to play,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi said the PIAA is moving forward as if teams will be able to return to play on Jan. 4 because it is taking the governor’s office at its word with the orders it laid out earlier this month. But the Board has planned its next meeting for Jan. 6 just in case high school sports are not allowed to return Jan. 4 and they have to make further adjustments.

The goal, Lombardi said, is to avoid pushing back the winter sports season anymore than it has so it can avoid disrupting the spring sports season. Having already lost last spring season, Lombardi said the PIAA wants to avoid having to disrupt the spring yet again.

“By changing all our deadlines, we have given maximum flexibility to the playing of a winter season,” Lombardi said. “There is no sentiment to go past the winter deadlines we currently have. Nobody wants to negatively impact spring sports again. We’re hopefully we’ll be able to start on Jan. 4 because it gives us the optimum number of days to get a season in without impacting spring.”

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