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Recent setbacks create doubts for WPIAL soccer season

File photo by Ed Thompson

Recent setbacks create doubts for WPIAL soccer season

As of today, the PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association) and the WPIAL (Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League) remain committed to move forward with its Fall sports seasons in the midst of the current pandemic, including boys and girls soccer.

Last week, the WPIAL announced that it’s moving back the start of many Fall sports seasons to early and mid-September, with soccer teams allowed to begin playing regular season matches on September 14.

WPIAL soccer regular season pushed back to Sept 14 start

In the past few days, there have been a few developments that may point to high school soccer in Western PA not having a Fall 2020 season.

LATEST FROM GOVERNOR WOLF 

On Monday, during his press conference Governor Tom Wolf said that Fall sports would be difficult for many schools that would not be having in-person classes this Fall.

“If the school is going completely virtual, it seems hard to justify having in-person contact sports being played in the fall,” said Wolf.

The Governor’s office, in conjunction with the PA Department of Health, is expected to announce more guidance on school sports activities later this week.

The statement threw the WPIAL’s leadership for a bit of a surprise.

“We were not prepared for that statement,” said Amy Scheuneman, the WPIAL Executive Director, told KDKA-TV.

According to the Governor’s statement, it would only apply to schools who are offering online classes only. As of right now, districts are slowly releasing details on their plans to reopen.

Pittsburgh Public and Woodland Hills have already decided to start the year off remotely.

“From a league standpoint, obviously it’s our mission and our goal to have interscholastic athletics,” Scheuneman added. “We do hope that the government can somehow allow operations and sports to continue this Fall.”

UNIONTOWN CANCELS SOCCER & FOOTBALL SEASONS 

At least one school district has already moved forward with canceling boys and girls soccer, along with its football season, Uniontown High School in Fayette County.

On Tuesday, the school board for the Uniontown Area voted to cancel sports for those ‘contact’ sports. At this point, golf, volleyball and cross country, non-contact sports, remain a go at Uniontown.  In its statement, the Uniontown board admitted that its decision to cancel fall sports was influenced by Wolf’s comments Monday.

COVID-19 POSITIVE CASES FOR BEAVER & AMBRIDGE SOCCER TEAMS

In addition, on Monday, Beaver Area notified families that extracurricular activities would canceled for three days after a student-athlete tested positive for COVID-19. According to a letter from the district, they were alerted to the positive test on Sunday morning. It was confirmed by WTAE-TV this was a soccer player.

In the announcement to Beaver Area parents, they were told that sports activities would not be affected for the Fall sports season, for now.

“If we have to stop playing sports for a period of time,” Dr. Carrie Rowe, Beaver Area Superintendent, told WTAE-TV’s Sheldon Ingram on Monday. “That’s what we’ll have to do. Because what’s most important is the safety of our kids.”

In addition, Ambridge Area High School also confirmed that two soccer players tested positive for COVID-19.

At Beaver Area, as they work on contract tracing and monitoring the situation closely, they’ve suspended soccer for 14 days, while other sports have been halted for three days.

FOUR STATES HAVE POSTPONED FALL HIGH SCHOOL SOCCER SEASONS

Meanwhile, nationally, at least four states have made the decision to move high school soccer seasons from the Fall to the Spring.

Maryland became fourth state that offers soccer in the fall (boys and girls) to move sports to the spring.

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association is postponing fall and winter sports seasons during the first semester. The move follows the recent announcements of local school systems to begin education virtually and allows them to gradually increase activities.

Three states — Illinois (boys), Nevada (boys and girls), New Mexico (boys and girls) — and the District of Columbia previously moved fall soccer to the spring.

California, Virginia (football) and Washington also moved fall sports to the spring. None offers soccer in the fall.

Of the 51 states and the District of Columbia, 41 offer boys and girls soccer in the same season — fall, winter or spring. Ten states split the soccer seasons with all but Tennessee offering boys soccer in the fall and girls soccer in the spring.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NOW?  

The question now is, will more schools in our region cancel Fall sports?

It looks like most will wait until the the Governor’s office issues a statement of guidance — which is probably expected later this week.

Following the PIAA along with the PA Governor’s office protocols that were set in place in early July, soccer coaches in our region have continued to move forward in preparing for the August 17 start of preseason — and the September 14 start to their regular season.  Since the protocols were put in place for resumption of off season workouts for Fall sports teams, the PIAA did also announce in late July that fans will not be able to attend soccer or any other sports games or matches this fall.

High school soccer programs return to optional workouts; PIAA remains committed to Fall sports

PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi also told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he remains hopeful for Fall sports, and thinks that virtual schooling in the early part of the year is part of a transition period.

“I’ve heard from a number of school people that they’re using the virtual school as a transition to get a group ready, monitor it and maybe move to a larger group in school after a while,”

Uniontown officials, however, didn’t want to wait to take action, making a decision which was clear that they were all about prioritizing safety.

“Our main concern was sending the kids back to school,” Susan Clay, Vice-President of Uniontown’s board, told the Post-Gazette. “The governor made the statement that any school that goes remote couldn’t have fall sports. Canceling fall sports was then taken out of our hands.

“I feel sorry for everyone involved. It’s a no-win situation no matter what. … For some reason, sports always take top priority in some people’s minds. I’ve always said we could cancel a math teacher and no one would care. But if we fire the football coach, you get everyone climbing down our back. We had to look at what’s best for kids.”

 

John Krysinsky has covered soccer and other sports for many years for various publications and media outlets. He is also author of 'Miracle on the Mon' -- a book about the Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC, which chronicles the club, particularly the early years of Highmark Stadium with the narrative leading up to and centered around a remarkable match that helped provide a spark for the franchise. John has covered sports for Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, DK Pittsburgh Sports, Pittsburgh Sports Report, has served as color commentator on Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC broadcasts, and worked with OPTA Stats and broadcast teams for US Open Cup and International Champions Cup matches held in the US. Krysinsky also served as the Head Men’s Soccer Coach at his alma mater, Point Park University, where he led the Pioneers to the first-ever winning seasons and playoff berths (1996-98); head coach of North Catholic boys (2007-08), associate head coach of Shady Side Academy boys (2009-2014).

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