Fall sports practices begin this week, will PIAA season be normal in 2021?

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As fall sports begin this week, thousands of athletes across Pennsylvania hope that also means a normal season. After a tumultuous 2020-21 school year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the PIAA says it is committed to normalcy.

Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) Associate Executive Director Melissa Mertz telling abc27 the PIAA intends for the fall to be as normal as possible.

“We met with our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee at the very beginning of August,” Mertz said. “They were in full support based on all the information we have now medically. They are in support of us moving ahead with fall sports as they normally would be scheduled.”

Membership on the the committee includes physicians, certified athletic trainers, other health professionals, and athletic administrators.

Headed into the fall season, the PIAA plans to proceed on a normal preseason schedule with a full slate of playoffs.

“Our plan right now is to go back to a normal playoff structure,” Mertz said. “If we have to adjust that as we get closer, if we see some things changing in terms of some medical concerns, we’ll make some adjustments.”

The PIAA has not implemented a mask mandate or health and safety guidelines.

At this time, any changes to policy this fall will not come from the PIAA, but instead from individual school districts to allow the maximum amount of flexibility across the state. For example, the PIAA says it doesn’t want to make a decision for West Perry High School in Perry County based on data from Imhotep Charter High School in Philadelphia.

“We take it very seriously,” Mertz said. “Especially after last year, we really understand the importance and the value of interscholastic athletics and all extra curricular activities. These kids of this age group so need it.”

Pennsylvania was among the half of states who managed to play a relatively normal schedule in the fall, despite short delays at the end of the summer.

“We’re going to try to do everything we have to, to get as much of a season for as many kids for as long as possible,” Mertz said. “That has been our mantra since last year. I think this year might be a little bit easier for us.”

The 2020 fall season was interrupted from the beginning by COVID-19, as the PIAA delayed the start of the season by two weeks. At the time of the delay, the PIAA was grappling with the changing mandates from the state on school guidelines.

Despite the Governor’s desire for all sports to be delayed until January 2021, the PIAA ultimately chose to move forward with the season after the two-week pause. Some schools opted out of playing, including Milton Hershey.

Schedules for football teams were shortened, state playoffs across the board were reduced to District Champions only and regulations were put in to reduce contact between athletes, schools and officials.

“It really made it very clear to us how important it is what we do,” Mertz said of the PIAA continuing sports in 2020. “We’ll try to do everything we can to give everybody a normal season [in 2021].”

As schools head towards the beginning of the academic year, boards are making individual decisions on masking policies, virtual classes and COVID protocol. The PIAA says it will continue to stay in contact with its 1,452 member schools to remain as vigilant as possible.

“Similar to what we did last year, we will keep our eye on things to see what’s coming to the surface,” Mertz said. “If we need to make some adjustments, we’ll make some adjustments.”

The PIAA Board of Directors plans to meet in September to continue to monitor any necessary changes.

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