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Sports Article
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Fall Sports Season Hanging by a Thread
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            As a member of District One's Golf Steering Committee, John Brittain is immersed in the minutia of the PIAA's deliberations regarding the potential suspension of the fall athletic season due to COVID-19. Brittain, the head golf coach at Upper Perkiomen High School, says he is completely torn on whether or not to cancel autumn sports.

            "Keeping people safe is the most important thing," Brittain said. "But on the other hand, sports are very important to this community. And if there's a way everyone can play safely, then we should do that."

            On Sunday, Brittain set the odds of a fall sports season at 50/50. However, he said he didn't expect the PIAA to overrule Gov. Tom Wolf's Aug. 6 recommendation to cancel all sports until Jan. 1 due to concerns over the novel coronavirus.

            "I'm not confident," the golf coach said.

            Tom Hontz, the school's head football coach, expressed a similar opinion. He stated a preference for a decision either way, rather than the current veil of uncertainty under which his players are operating.

            "It's not fun," Hontz wrote in a text message.

            Julie Dupee, a member of the Indians girls soccer team, expects her senior season to be cancelled. She doesn't consider playing games a realistic option, given the circumstances.

            "The threat of losing my senior season of soccer is upsetting to me because fall soccer is all I have known for about 10 years," Dupee wrote in a Facebook message. "Unfortunately I do not think we will have a season simply because the numbers do not lie and other schools in the area that we compete against have backed out of the season."

            Late last week, the Pioneer Athletic Conference and the PIAA acted to delay the start of the fall season. The PAC's member schools voted to push back the start of official fall practice and heat acclimation to Sept. 7 as well as postpone all competition to Sept. 25, according to an email received from conference President Bill Ziegler.

            The decision – issued Aug. 7 – will provide the conference's member districts ample time to decide on their direction and participation in sports this fall, according to the message. Norristown has already suspended its fall sports, while Pottstown's school board voted to opt out of its athletic programs through the end of 2020.

            Phoenixville will not compete in cheerleading, cross country, field hockey, football, soccer and volleyball. At this time, band, girls and boys golf and singles-only tennis will be allowed to compete this fall, according to Don Grinstead, the district's Director of Athletics and Student Activities.

            On Friday, the PIAA voted to delay the start of the fall season for two weeks while it continues to seek guidance from the governor, the Pennsylvania General Assembly and all athletic stakeholders on how to safely conduct sports in the fall.

            Agency officials expressed "tremendous disappointment" in the statement, according to a news release posted on the PIAA's website.

            Brittain said he expects the state organization to make a final decision on the fall season during a meeting later this month.

            According to Brittain, golfers can play the sport safely just as he has done all summer. However, he said transportation issues may make the sport unfeasible. Utilizing a school bus to take eight players and coach to a road match may not be cost-effective. Additionally, the coach said he wouldn't feel safe going the traditional route, which is driving eight players in a van while wearing a mask.

            Kyle Fisher, the Head Coach of Upper Perkiomen's boys soccer team, is moving forward with plans for a new season. In a text message, Fisher wrote that he's not sure how he feels about the current situation.

            "I wish I could say I'm optimistic…" he wrote. "With no real guidance or strength coming from the PIAA, I'm just hoping some solutions can be found by the local districts." 

            Todd Niemann, coach of the school's cross country team, closely monitors his athletes. The coach takes their temperatures and asks them a series of questions about symptoms and exposure. The runners, who are forced to wear masks while warming up and cooling down, run in groups of five or less. The athletes must remain between 10 and 15 feet apart, according to a text message from Niemann.

            The girls tennis team will continue to practice and plan as if it will play a season. Holding optional practices has given the student-athletes a sense of normalcy and has provided them enormous physical and mental benefits, according to head coach John Williamson.

            "Being around their peers in a team environment has been great (for the students)," Williamson wrote in a text message. "It would be a shame not having a season, as happened in the spring, but we are in unprecedented times." 

            Hontz wrote that he is interested in a proposal from the head of Pennsylvania Football Coaches Association to hold it season in the spring. He stated he would be in favor of staging all sports in 2021: winter sports in January and February, fall sports in March and April and spring sports May and June.

Fisher said that if his regular season is cancelled, he is hoping the PIAA will find a way to move the season to later in the school year.

            "It's time to get creative with this because the seniors only have one more chance to play," Fisher wrote. "There is no next year for them."






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