HARRISBURG – As the debate continues on whether school sports should resume this fall, key stakeholders told the Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee today that they believe these activities can continue safely with proper safeguards in place to protect the health of student-athletes.
Prior to receiving testimony, the committee voted unanimously to elect Senator Scott Martin (R-13) to serve as Chair. Martin said the hearing was critical to hear of the hard, extensive work put in by school districts in developing and implementing health and safety plans to allow school sports to be facilitated safely, as they have been already most of the summer. In addition, the development of guidelines by the Department of Health to allow a limited number of spectators, especially parents of student-athletes, is very important, especially since families have been spectators since June at youth summer leagues in a variety of sports already.
“As youth leagues demonstrated over the summer, we know that we can ensure students’ physical health while they play sports. We are talking about more than just a game here. Sometimes the opportunities we are providing are a ticket to higher education opportunities and an anchor to keep kids in school. For many young people, school sports is a critical part of their physical, mental and emotional health” Martin said. “Parents and family members need to be involved as well. As a recreational football league coach, we actually require a parent or guardian to be present in case a young athlete suffers any sort of injury or illness that requires medical attention.”
Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi pointed out that their Return to Competition guidelines they provided to schools were developed using information published by the National Federation of State High School Associations, Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pennsylvania Department of Health, fall sport steering committees, officials’ council, coaches’ association representatives and the sports medicine advisory committee.
“Throughout this summer, numerous community and recreational programs have hosted countless activities for all different age groups,” Lombardi said. “To our knowledge, none have reported problems with coronavirus breakouts.”
“If schools are unable to engage in sports, and absent another mandatory shutdown, families and students will not stop playing. They will simply find other outlets,” Lombardi said. “Halting interscholastic athletics will not eliminate the risk, it will simply shift it to other venues that lack sufficient oversight.”
Lombardi also said that member schools and athletic personnel have reported more than 30,000 pre-screenings over the past eight weeks of voluntary workouts. Those screenings resulted in just four positive tests for COVID-19.
A meeting with the Wolf Administration last week presented no specific medical or research reason that would suggest that participation in interscholastic sports inherently increases the risk of COVID-19, Lombardi said.
Pennsylvania Catholic Conference Director of Education Sean McAleer echoed those sentiments. He requested that all decisions on whether to offer a high school fall season be made by the schools, leagues and conferences that run those entities.
“The PIAA believes, and we agree, it is essential to the physical and mental well-being of high school student-athletes across the Commonwealth to return to physical activity and athletic competition,” McAleer said. “Our schools and athletic programs accepted the changes and have been able to follow their safety plans, comply with the standards and navigate all the roadblocks to create a safe return to sports this fall. Please allow the local folks that know their communities and have the most current data for their geographic area to make the decisions regarding fall sports for their students to play.”
The committee also heard testimony from school and sports representatives, including:
- Lee Ann Wentzel, Superintendent, Ridley School District.
- Brandon Bailey, Director of Educational Services, Richland School District.
- Bob Bozzuto, Athletic Director, North Allegheny High School.
- Mark Evans, Head Football Coach, Manheim Township School District.
Video and additional information from the hearing is available at:
CONTACT: Terry Trego (717) 787-6535