MECHANICSBURG — Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi is cautiously optimistic about the fall sports seasons.
On Wednesday, the PIAA Board of Directors moved forward with allowing student-athletes who reside in counties that reach a phase where it is permitted to do so, to start practicing again.
At the end of a lengthy video conference by the state’s athletic governing body, and following an impassioned argument from District 11 chairman Bob Hartman, the board accepted a motion that grants Lombardi the authority to allow activities when the guidelines set by Gov. Tom Wolf and the State Department of Health allow them to resume.
High school athletics in the state remain under the restrictions of no activity until July 1. However, if those restrictions are loosened by the governor before then, Lombardi can relax that date without the board having to meet.
“I would rather see our students under the guidance and directions of their hired school coaches rather than going out to other programs that are not handled as professionally as their own coaches,” Lombardi said during the discussion.
Hartman presented the option in response to Gov. Wolf issuing reopening orders on a county-by-county basis in red, yellow and green phases. Schools in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties remain in red, while Wyoming, Susquehanna and Wayne counties are yellow.
There are still restrictions for activities in those phases, according to the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society. All outdoor recreation surrounding athletics is closed in red or yellow counties.
Outdoor athletics may be conducted, but with some restrictions in green. Areas will be open for controlled non-contact practices, clinics and modified game rules. There is a limit of 25 people, including coaches and spectators per scheduled field/court. No self-serve concessions will be allowed.
Once in Phase Out, outdoor athletics would be open at full capacity.
The PIAA allowed flexibility should the restrictions in each phase change, as well.
“Obviously, we have to follow what the governor says, but many of us on the board are parents and grandparents, and it’s my personal opinion, that if athletes or students are allowed to participate as per the guidelines that are set forth, I honestly don’t care what the date is,” Hartman said. “If the kids in Erie can start working out two weeks from now, and of course I am speaking hypothetically, I don’t think we should stop those kids, because I have kids at home who would love to be able to get out.
“So why should we deny any kid or group of kids, if they are permitted, to do what they can do.”
Gov. Wolf announced at a news conference earlier in the afternoon that he’d have a decision on the status of sports activities, but Lombardi felt that centers more on professional sports.
Lombardi continues to approach the fall sports season with patience while trying not to diminish hope.
“I am cautiously optimistic,” Lombardi said. “And very hopeful. What will the season look like? That is to be determined, because we really don’t know at this point. The changes you see in the landscape over the last 10 days have been major things.
“I don’t want to give people false hope, but I am also cautiously optimistic that we can move forward.”
Discussions on state championships, schedules, competitive fairness and other issues that will arise because schools could start at different times are forthcoming after additional information regarding all future guidelines becomes available.