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Sports Article
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UPSD Board Approves Winter Sports
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            Winter athletes received permission to begin official practice in the Upper Perkiomen School District. On Monday, the school board voted 6-3 to ratify a joint motion allowing its high school and middle school students to participate in basketball, wrestling, swimming and girls winter track based on PIAA guidelines and the district's updated winter athletic health and safety plan.

            Melanie Cunningham, the board's new president, Stephen Cunningham and former President Kerry Drake voted against the motion, which includes a health and safety plan requiring all coaches and athletes to wear face masks at all times.

            Official practice for all high school teams began Tuesday. A majority of the teams in the Pioneer Athletic Conference started practicing Monday or Tuesday or will start next week, according to Athletic Director Robert Kurzweg.

            Three varsity winter coaches expressed their appreciation for the decision. The trio acknowledged that the decision was not an easy one for the board.

            Wrestling coach Steve Adam said he was thrilled with the vote. Brandon Hibbler, who leads the boys basketball team said he and the players are grateful for the opportunity. According to Brien Kalnoski, most of his swimmers displayed the necessary adaptability during the water polo season.

            Initially, home games will likely be played without spectators, since Montgomery County officials set a limit allowing only 25 people in a single location at any one time due to concerns over COVID-19. Administrators are still discussing the issue, according to Kurzweg.

            "It would appear that the availability of spectators to attend these games is severely limited," he said prior to the vote during the meeting, held on Zoom and hosted in the middle school auditorium.

            One conference member has committed to having spectators, according to the athletic director. He said the other school is "talking about" that option, and that no other members have made any plans to include them.

            Vice President Judith Maginnis, Mike Elliot, Raeann Hofkin, Dana Hipszer, Peg Pennepacker, Keith McCarrick voted in favor of the joint motion. Prior to the vote, Elliot said the athletes, who showed they could follow the health protocols during the fall, earned the right to have a winter season.

            Hofkin repeated her belief that since there are coaches and students willing to take the risk, the board should not stand in their way.

            Maginnis, a school nurse, said she waivered a dozen times on which way to vote. Ultimately she concluded that since sports were voluntary, students could make the choice to participate so long as they comply with the district's health and safety plan.

            "This is a real conundrum," Maginnis said.

            Pennepacker's pre-vote questions displayed a significant level of skepticism regarding safety issues and the district's potential liability amid rising cases. She asked for assurances from the athletic director and high school Principal Rob Carpenter that the coaches would strictly obey the district's health and safety plan. Carpenter said he and Kurzweg would have an increased presence in the school during practices and games.

            A retired athletic director, Pennepacker said she would feel more comfortable voting for the motion if fans were not allowed in the gymnasium to start the season. She suggested that they could be permitted later if the situation regarding the global pandemic improves.

            "I'm sure you know my background," Pennepacker told Carpenter and Kurzweg. "My phobia about liability is real. It's a real concern."

            Stephen Cunningham said he shared Pennepacker's concerns. He added that he didn't feel comfortable voting to approve the winter season with novel coronavirus cases 12 times higher than they were in September.

            "The governor said new restrictions are coming soon," said Stephen Cunningham, who added that he didn't know how wrestlers could compete while wearing a face mask. "I don't see this getting better any time soon."

            The health and safety rules will be strictly enforced on the boys basketball team, according to Hibbler. He said during a phone conversation after the meeting that players who do not follow the rule will be dismissed from the team.

"Everyone is thankful to have an opportunity for a season," said Hibbler, whose team opens its schedule on Jan. 4 at home against Owen J. Roberts. "What we do with that opportunity is up to us."

            Adam doesn't foresee any challenges for his wrestlers. The coach wrote that he is fully supportive and prepared to strictly follow the COVID-19 guidelines set forth by the district.

            The coach lauded the screening process implemented by the school's athletic training staff. He also wrote that wrestlers will have access to specially designed masks to wear during competition.

            Kalnoski expressed confidence that the swim team will be able to conduct practices and meets despite the restriction limiting the number of people in the school at any one time. He wrote that split practices will likely be implemented and that he must figure out how to conduct a meet under similar conditions.

            "We were able to figure it out during the water polo season, so I am confident we will figure it out during the swim season," Kalnoski wrote. "The meets will just look a little different than in past years."






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