After opposition from the governor, one of Pennsylvania's governing bodies for high school athletics is delaying its decision to allow sports to happen in the fall.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s board of directors on Friday said it will meet again later this month to determine how to move forward, all the while asking Gov. Tom Wolf and the state health and education departments to “work collaboratively to further discuss fall sports.”
In the meantime, mandatory fall sports activities will be suspended for two weeks, though voluntary workouts may continue if granted local approval.
“The Board believes that the Governor’s strong recommendation to delay sports to January 1, 2021 has a potential negative impact on the students’ physical, social, emotional, and mental health,” the group said in a statement. “These issues along with the financial inability of many students to participate in any other form of non-school based athletic program affect all students directly or indirectly.”
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Originally, the PIAA had said youth sports could happen in the fall, provided players and coaches took safety precautions like wearing masks where feasible and adhering to proper hygiene and sanitization practices.
This week, however, Wolf said he recommended that games, group training and scrimmages be postponed until at least January 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Though the recommendation is not binding, Wolf and the state departments of health and education asked that youth sports, both school and non-school-affiliated, be postponed “to protect children and teens from COVID-19.”
“The guidance is that we ought to avoid any congregate settings. And that means anything that brings people together is going to help that virus get us,” Wolf, a Democrat, said the day prior.
The governor also drew rebuke from Republicans in the state Legislature, who have frequently taken aim at him for what they characterize as a heavy-handed approach to stemming the spread of the virus.
Republican House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff wrote to the PIAA asking that it “stand firm” on its previous decision to continue with fall sports.
“PIAA is an independent association, and I, along with many Pennsylvanians, trust your previous commonsense decision to allow fall activities to safely continue so students can have even a degree of normalcy that they so desperately need and deserve,” Benninghoff wrote, all the while critiquing Wolf for being what he deemed as being “punitive against those who have gone against him.”
For Sonantonious Moore, the recommendation from the governor came not only as a disappointment but as a source of worry about the fate of youths surrounded by gun violence.
“We just have so many deaths in this city. This is the inner city,” Moore said as boys between 6 and 14 years old practiced football behind him at a field in West Philadelphia.
Moore is the chief executive officer of the Overbrook Monarchs, which includes some 200 kids. The team has been practicing with precautions including temperature checks for each child, mask-wearing for all coaches, and banning parents from being on the field.
For many, the gridiron provides a safe haven and a distraction from the scourge of gunfire in so many neighborhoods in the city. Already, numerous kids in Philadelphia have been shot and killed as homicides reach their highest levels since 2007.
“This is a safe haven for them, two hours a day, three to four days a week,” Moore said.
The sentiment was echoed by Darnell Fowler, a coach whose young son also plays for the Monarchs.
For him, like others, there is less fear about a viral plague than there is about the plague of gun violence which seems almost ever-present in a city where children are all too often caught in the crossfire.
“We’re already taking away the beginning of the school year. What are they supposed to do? We want to talk about violence? You gotta leave them something,” Fowler said.