COVID-19 has forced tough choices affecting Pa. student athletes

By KYW Newsradio 1060

Part of a four-week series: 'Live and Learn: Education in a COVID-19 World'

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- The coronavirus pandemic has forced some tough decisions in all aspects of education, including school sports.

After school buildings were closed across the state, the topic of youth sports became a political football of sorts. In late July, the PIAA, which oversees school sports in Pennsylvania, issued in-depth guidance on how sports could resume, addressing everything from wearing masks on the sidelines, to how to treat mouth guards to limit spread.

But Gov. Tom Wolf kicked a hornet’s nest when, in the last minute of an unrelated press conference in early August, he said sports should not resume until the new year.

“The guidance from us, the recommendation, is that we don’t do any sports until Jan. 1,” he said.

That forced the PIAA to pause and reconsider. Eventually the decision was left to each individual district.

While most schools outside the city moved forward with sports, in August, the Philadelphia Public League announced the city's high school season was cancelled.

“It’s not a safe thing to do, and the health and safety of our student athletes, our coaches, is our No. 1 priority,” league President James Patrick Lynch said.

The Philadelphia Catholic League, comprising the city's Catholic high school teams, also announced the season was scrapped, but they reversed course late last month and cobbled together an abbreviated season.

But it didn’t end there. Wolf adjusted limits on crowd sizes in Pennsylvania, 250 people for outdoor gatherings and 25 people for indoor gatherings, angering parents and prompting protests.

Those 250 would included teams, coaches, staff, cheerleaders and band members, which meant stadiums, no matter the size, would be empty.

And for some sports, such as volleyball, substitute players would have to wait in the hallway or the parking lot, no matter how big the gym.

State Rep. Mike Reese introduced legislation in hopes of changing those limits.

“It’s even harder to understand the 25-person limit for indoor gatherings being applied in gymnasiums that are, in some cases, larger than our big-box stores," Reese said.

The governor vetoed Reese's bill, but the limits were eventually changed. The new limits are now based on a percentage of capacity.

As for spread of the virus in sports, Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh says it isn’t during the games or practices where they’re seeing an issue, but rather at social events the teams are holding off the field.

The coronavirus pandemic has altered life in many ways for most of us, including the way students are learning. KYW Newsradio is taking a look at the impact of COVID-19 on education with "Live and Learn: Education in a COVID-19 World."