PPS to vote to delay sports at Aug 26 board meeting

Questions and decisions

Football has become a, well, political football, as are all sports decisions.

Officials with the Pittsburgh Public Schools said they are leaning toward postponing fall sports and marching band in the wake of Gov. Tom Wolf’s recommendation to push them back until January because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, Uniontown Area School District became the first district in the WPIAL to cancel fall football and boys and girls soccer for its high school over coronavirus concerns. A week earlier, the superintendent of Norristown Area School District in Eastern Pennsylvania announced that he was suspending all fall sports.

The Pittsburgh school board is scheduled to vote on the recommendation at its Aug. 26 meeting.

“While we understand the valuable role strong athletic programs contribute to our overall student experience, our number one priority is student and staff safety,” superintendent Anthony Hamlet said in a statement late Thursday. “...we understand that this is disappointing news for some of our students and staff. We are exploring the possibilities of an alternative schedule if and when students return for an in-school blended model.”

The school board last week mandated that students will spend at least the first nine weeks of the 2020-21 school year taking classes virtually.

The PIAA board of directors held an emergency meeting in executive session Thursday and plans to meet again Friday afternoon on what actions to take following the governor’s statements. The PIAA issued a statement Thursday saying the organization was “tremendously disappointed” with Mr. Wolf’s decision.

Pittsburgh Public Schools sports that would be impacted include football, boys and girls soccer, girls tennis and volleyball, cross country, golf and field hockey as well as cheerleading, and marching band and band camps.

Uniontown Area has canceled football and boys and girls soccer. Athletic director D.J. Burns said the district has not yet decided whether to cancel other fall sports that are considered non-contact (girls volleyball and boys and girls cross country).

Uniontown’s school board voted 9-0 on Monday night to start the school year with online classes and also to cancel football and soccer. Earlier Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf said at a press conference that it would be hard to justify having fall sports at schools that were not having in-person classes this fall. More guidance on high school sports activities is expected from the governor’s office later this week.

Susan Clay, vice president of Uniontown’s school board, said the board’s decision to cancel fall sports was influenced by the governor’s comments about school districts doing remote learning shouldn’t have fall sports.

“Our main concern was sending the kids back to school,” Clay said. “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.”

Correction, posted Aug. 7, 2020: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Pittsburgh Public Schools as part of the WPIAL.

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