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STEVE JERVIS

As counties across the state are cautiously moving forward through reopening guidelines set by Gov. Tom Wolf, a return to organized athletic events at the high school level remains unclear.

The conclusion of the winter sports season and the spring sports season were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Schools were closed through the end of the academic year and practices forbidden.

That directive remains in place until July 1 unless there are changes to the guidelines, Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi said Thursday.

The organization that governs scholastic sports in the state is remaining patient and will follow recommendations made by Gov. Wolf and the state Department of Health.

“I am very reluctant to say there is an alternate plan, because if the department of health comes out with something that contradicts that plan it continues a cycle of starting over and crushing hopes,” Lombardi said. “We are going to be patient, as hard as that is, and wait and then make decisions based on the directives.

“The first priority is keeping everyone safe.”

Some high school football coaches who are members of the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association took part in a virtual meeting on Zoom this week.

Discussions included a timeline of what is needed to get ready for a season. Changes that could be adopted to a schedule to make the season work. And even the possibility that football shifts to the spring and the spring sports move to the fall.

Students being in the classroom is the first step toward formulating a plan for a return to the athletic fields.

“I think you have to have a plan just like school districts, so you are ready to move forward of you get a green light, and you are going to need a green light, so to not lose any more time,” said Lackawanna Trail coach Steve Jervis, who is the District 2 director for the PSFCA. “All of the decisions will come down to if the restrictions are eased.

“You aren’t going to be practicing or playing any sports until the kids are back in school. They are student-athletes first.”

The PIAA is closed and is holding a board of directors meeting Wednesday.

“There will likely be

discussion on plans to proceed if counties move into the green phase in terms of having workouts,” Lombardi said.

Gov. Wolf’s recommendations for reopening the state labels counties based on a color system of red, yellow and green. The Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society released a chart this week offering guidelines and recommendations based on that system. They are:

Red or yellow county: All outdoor recreation surrounding athletics is to be closed.

Green county: Outdoor athletics may be conducted, but with some restrictions. 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.

The final phase in the chart is referred to as Phase Out, and it will only be then when outdoor athletics will be open at full capacity.

Lackawanna and Luzerne counties remain in the red phase. Wyoming, Wayne and Susquehanna counties will move from red to yellow May 22, Gov. Wolf announced Friday.

Teams are not permitted to conduct organized fall sports practices or activities until July 1 unless guidelines change.

“It’s not bad now in terms of working out, but the biggest thing for the kids is that they can’t get in the weight room,” Valley View coach George Howanitz said. “From a football perspective, we have been holding Zoom meetings and going over film. We don’t start anything football team-wise until after the Fourth of July, anyway.

“We have a staff where, whenever they tell us we are going to start, we will be able to have the kids ready to play.”

Moving football to the spring, which is an idea explored independent from the Ohio Interscholastic Athletic Association, right now, doesn’t seem an option being looked into at this time.

One obstacle is that if spring sports for 2021 move to the fall and restrictions are not lifted, those activities would lose two seasons back-to-back. And having football in the spring, then coming back for a fall season in 2021 would also be a challenge.

“That is an idea being thrown out there in Ohio that doesn’t have support from that state’s athletic organization,” Lombardi said. “We are not considering it at this time.”

Another factor that needs consideration is the time needed to prepare for a season.

The PIAA requires five days of mandatory heat acclimatization, a week of practice before a scrimmage against another school and another week before the first regular-season contest.

“Those rules won’t change,” Lombardi said.

The PSFCA agrees.

“That’s what we did talk about and what we know,” Jervis said. “We have to have that time for the athletes physically ready to play.”

For now, coaches are dealing with the separation from their student athletes by putting together workouts and sharing playbooks online.

“That’s all we can do now,” Jervis said. “We post workouts that are mainly body weight exercises and we hope that they are maintaining their strength and conditioning. We are maintaining hope that there is football.

“Ultimately, the directives and guidelines will dictate what happens. The health and safety of everyone is most important.”