PLATTSBURGH — After a week-long hiatus that recently saw some local sports leagues table competition for precautionary measures, play is set to get back underway.
Both leagues suspended play for a week last weekend after it was discovered that multiple players from multiple teams in both leagues attended a July 17 party in Altona that ended up having five confirmed cases of COVID-19 traced back to the event.
Last weekend, CVBL officials confirmed that at least one member of four of its eight teams, and possibly more, attended the Altona gathering.
In coordination with the Clinton County Health Department, the CVBL determined it is now safe to resume play.
“We are very grateful for all the hard work from the Clinton County Health Department this past week,” CVBL Commissioner Randy Lozier said. “We look forward to opening up on Sunday.”
Numerous players within the league have undergone COVID-19 testing, and there are no active cases of the virus, Lozier said, within the league.
“Knowing what I know now, I still would have made the same decision (to postpone games) knowing the enormity of the situation,” Lozier said.
“I know I spoke to some people who thought this could be a high concern. I am very happy to know the number of cases only went up slightly when the potential could have been much worse.”
The CVBL plans to continue its season through the month of August and wrap up its playoffs at the end of the month and possibly in early September.
Games that were postponed July 26 will be inserted into the regular-season schedule on various days throughout the next month.
As the season progresses, Lozier expects a heightened sense of precaution from participants within the league in regard to COVID-19.
“Communication is key,” Lozier said. “That means communication with the Health Department, communication with our team representatives and communication with our players.
“That’s the only way we will make this work and enhance a safe environment to play under.”
North Country Soccer League officials including Lozier, Rob McAuliffe and Tim Mulligan plan to meet Saturday morning to confirm reopening in the coming week.
While plans are still tentative, all signs point in a positive direction for play to resume.
“We have had open and honest conversations with our student-athletes to assure the health department can do their job efficiently,” Lozier said.
In addition to limiting opportunities for COVID-19 to spread within the course of competition, both leagues also suspended play to allow the Clinton County Health Department to enact proper contact tracing protocols and not complicate matters.
“We appreciate the organizers of these sports leagues for being proactive in ensuring the safety and protection of their players,” Clinton County Health Department Director of Health Care Services Erin Streiff said.
“Additionally, we thank them for reaching out to our office to provide any assistance we may have needed. We hope that this incident has reminded our residents about the value of community-minded decision making.”
The schedule for the soccer league is expected to run through the month of August.
“We don’t believe sports had anything to do with this outbreak, and we continue to believe sports can happen in a safe manner in the North Country,” Lozier said.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — The Maryland Department of Health and the Public School Superintendent Association of Maryland has decided to postpone the 2020 high school fall and winter competition season during the first semester.
“This decision comes in light of the recent announcements of local school systems to begin education virtually and provides each school system with options for the gradual increase of student engagement for the physical and social-emotional health of students,” the MPSSAA said in a statement Sunday.
Local school systems will be able to use MPSSAA waiver regulations as approved by the State Board of Education on June 23, 2020, for student engagement during the first semester.
They are also working on finalizing a hybrid two-semester plan focused on student engagement options in the first semester and a modified competition season for all sports during the second semester.
Details on the hybrid two-semester plan will be available before the start of the 2020-2021 academic year.
“The health and safety of student participants, coaches, and officials is a primary concern for the return of interscholastic athletics and activities. The MPSSAA, the PSSAM, and the Maryland State Department of Education collectively share a commitment for the return of these highly beneficial educational programs when it is deemed safe for all school communities,”
NATCHITOCHES – The Northwestern State Athletic Department announced Monday it has added locally owned Fisher’s Sports & Signs as its official signage partner.
Fisher’s Sports is a Natchitoches business that specializes in signs, banners, car wraps, screen printing, embroidery, trophies and other team sports needs.
“We are excited to partner with Fisher’s Sports,” said General Manager of Corporate Partnerships Erika Moulder. “The Roquemore family have been a pleasure to work with thus far and the work they do is exceptional. We are proud to align our brand with a minority-owned business, especially in light of what’s taking place in our society. This is the beginning of a long-standing partnership.”
Under the agreement, Fisher’s will be the exclusive provider of signage across all Northwestern State athletic facilities, including Turpin Stadium, Prather Coliseum, Brown-Stroud Field, Lady Demon Diamond and the Lady Demon Soccer Complex.
“Our Fisher’s Sports team is excited to announce our partnership with Northwestern State University Athletics,” said Fisher’s CEO Romulus Roquemore, who is an NSU alumnus and the father of former NSU softball player Kayla Roquemore.
“Working together with NSU, we strive to not only deliver an exceptional product but to deliver the ‘all in’ experience.”
For information on how to become a Northwestern State Athletics corporate partner, contact Moulder via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (318) 357-4293.
Since the shutdown, what measures have failed in keeping high school student-athletes safe? Which ones have worked? And as Pennsylvania teeters on a second wave of COVID-19, what have we learned in the last four months to keep student-athletes, coaches and trainers safe?
While those measures have received positive reviews, one glaring failure remains for Melissa Mertz, the associate executive director of the PIAA: the politicizing of data.
The PIAA uses facts and figures from a multitude of trusted sources like the American Academy of Pediatrics to determine the best course of action as the fall sports season approaches, Mertz said. But, she added that she noticed President Donald Trump quickly rescinded data supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics promoting students physically going back to school.
“It’s very frustrating when you’re trying to operate, trying to put a plan in place, trying to give kids interscholastic athletics based on everything you have, and then that data changes or is rescinded,” Mertz said. “I would say that’s a measure that’s certainly very frustrating to deal with.
“It’s one thing if you pull the data back because you find out it’s not reliable. But pulling the data back because it’s political – it’s Democratic or it’s Republican – is extremely frustrating. That’s not what’s good for the kids. That’s not what’s good for America right now. We need to be able to rely on that stuff, and I’d say that’s a failure.”
Bob Hartman, athletic director of Whitehall High School, is the chairman of PIAA District 11, a district that spans Pike, Monroe, Schuylkill, Northampton, Lehigh, Carbon and Bucks counties. The counties in his district combined for 18,786 total cases of COVID-19, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health on July 30. Those numbers are highlighted by 6,847 cases in Bucks County, where only Palisades High School is in District 11’s jurisdiction, 4,795 cases in Lehigh and 3,816 cases in Northampton.
With a district that ranges anywhere from rural areas like Tri-Valley High School in Hegins to urban areas such as William Allen High School in Allentown, circumstances can differ significantly. But overall, Hartman points to the indifferent attitudes of some that have stopped people from wearing masks in public as a significant failure of the past four months.
“The biggest thing of what’s not working I guess is the reluctance of people to wear (masks),” Hartman said. “I get the occasional inconvenience. I get that when it’s 92 degrees out with a mask on, it’s not fun. I get all of the negative aspects to it. But I think the most positive thing is that it likely is preventing the spread via aerosol. It’s working but you probably wish more people would be compliant.”
Hartman understands, too, the difficulty of convincing the public to properly wear masks is too great for one person, let alone an athletic director, to undertake.
“There’s a lot of personal opinion and personal feelings that dictate that, and we all have those,” Hartman said. “Whether they’re good or bad, or right or wrong, that’s not for me to judge. We’ve just got to keep doing our best to keep our kids as safe as possible so they can play. I think that’s what I try to impress upon people. I get it, it can be inconvenient. But it gives you a way better chance of playing sports in the fall, the winter and the spring. Small sacrifice I guess.”
The shutdown of schools in March put an immediate halt to any risk student-athletes could face regarding the coronavirus.
On June 10, Gov. Wolf permitted PIAA schools in the yellow and green phases of his reopening plan to resume voluntary sports workouts after developing a head and safety plan in alignment with the Department of Education’s guidance for reopening. That put the formation of those plans into the hands of individual school districts, though there were many required stipulations to follow.
Among those requirements were:
modifying practices and scrimmages to mitigate risk;
employing a publicly-released and explained plan of action if an athlete, coach or official falls ill;
using appropriate social distancing at all times possible;
coaching staff and other adults wearing face coverings at all times;
prohibiting spitting, shaking hands, fist bumps or high fives; and using their own individual equipment.
“Every school understood clearly you have to adopt a health and safety plan, and you’ve got to put that in place before you can allow kids back in the weight room or in the gym or on the turf field,” Mertz said. “The benefit we see of that right now is that schools are using it as a testing ground to say ‘This worked, this didn’t. We need two more temperature checks here. We need to move the benches further.’ Whatever it may be, it gives them a testing ground so that come Sept. 4 when we have our first contest hopefully, they’re more prepared.”
Aaron Straub is the athletic director at Elk County Catholic High School as well as the chairman of PIAA District 9. Counties with high schools under his jurisdiction include Butler, Armstrong, Clarion, Venango, McKean, Warren, Forest, Elk, Potter, Cameron and Jefferson. Butler, where two of the 36 District 9 schools reside, has the most coronavirus cases in the district at 593. Only Butler and Armstrong (178) have more than 100 cases in the district. Clarion (73), Venango (60) and Jefferson (57) counties are the only others with more than 50.
Straub noted that from a sports perspective, his district has been as affected by the virus as Districts 1 and 12 in the Philadelphia region as sports came to a sudden stop. But from a health perspective, he realized how comparatively lucky his region has been to not be more heavily hit by the virus.
“Fortunately, we’ve been very blessed in our area to have a limited number of cases and a very limited number of deaths,” Straub said. “That’s not to downplay (the situation). If you’re one of the people that have a case or a death in your family, certainly that’s a tragedy and that’s when it hits home. But for the most part, our district has been very fortunate to not be as impacted, as you would expect, as the larger metropolitan areas.”
In District 11, where areas have been more significantly affected, Hartman has seen positive effects from many of the implemented rules.
“I think a lot of the things that we’ve put in place are helping,” Hartman said. “I think beyond masks, beyond social distancing, beyond hand sanitizer and washing your hands, all of those things, I think the byproduct of those puts the severity of what’s out there in everybody’s mind – the conscious realization that this is an issue and this is what we need to do to maintain safety.”
At Whitehall, Hartman said distancing has not been an issue. Student-athletes are wearing masks when needed while coaches are always wearing theirs. Additionally, the school is providing the student-athletes their own towels that the school then launders.
“I think kids understand this isn’t a joke,” Hartman said. “This is a real thing. People care about them so that they can participate and be healthy and be safe. It just seems like a lot of things – if not all of the things that everybody’s doing – should be helping. We’ve been lucky so far. We haven’t had situations at Whitehall. I haven’t heard about many others.”
Preparing for a potential second wave
The high school football preseason sits a week away.
On July 30, the Pennsylvania Department of Health announced an additional 860 positive cases of COVID-19 for a statewide total of 111,078.
With the PSAC and other college conferences announcing sports are postponed through 2020, how can high school athletics safely continue?
The ultimate answer for the PIAA right now is to move forward and address each situation individually. District chairmen have vocalized their desire to see sports continue for as many student-athletes as possible.
“We do think we’re different from the college setting obviously because we’re talking about local communities,” Mertz said. “We’re not talking about schools that have kids traveling across the nation or from other countries. Maybe on an extremely limited basis we have foreign-exchange students, but nowhere to the effect of an Ivy League school or a pro team has.”
Mertz also pointed to data the PIAA is relying on, showing minimal risk in high-school aged student-athletes and the virus.
“We’re also finding the data showing that this age group is so incredibly minimally affected – not only minimally affected but their data is showing that they’re not the ones spreading it,” Mertz said. “So it’s not common that they have it and it’s not common that they’re spreading it all among their peers, unlike as you might’ve seen in data, unlike the flu, where this age group, they spread the flu like crazy. They’re not seeing that with COVID and the teenagers.”
One of the keys in ensuring a spike in numbers doesn’t derail the return of high school athletics, Mertz said, is taking every second of the pandemic seriously.
“I know people are frustrated. We all are,” Mertz said. “And there’s people that don’t want to wear their masks anymore. They’re tired of it. They’re tired of COVID. They’re tired of social distancing. But if we’re going to have this season for kids, we need to take it seriously. We need to make sure we are following all the guidelines that are put out there, otherwise we could find ourselves back to a yellow phase or a red phase and nobody wants that.”
Hartman agreed that convincing people to continue to wear masks may remain the biggest challenge as the fall nears.
“I think the answer is, fortunately or unfortunately, freedom of choice,” Hartman said. “It’s people’s rights. In some cases, there’s not mandates. There’s sometimes ambiguity in the language that some people’s belief in whether this is real or not. And so the only thing you can do is the best that you can do. You can remind your coaches and your athletes, you can mandate that for them. But when they leave us, they’re not with us. Can’t really say you need to do this because we’re not with them. I wish there was a way.”
No plans are concrete in the coronavirus era. Straub understands that well and recalled the words of Danielle Turner, Central Bucks District athletic director and the Eastern Junior High Representative of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Directors Association, from a July 16 PSADA workshop.
“She said, ‘In this time of planning, two words that are very key are pause and pivot,’” Straub said. “Many plans have had to be paused and many plans have had to be pivoted in a different direction with different ways of doing things, and I think that’s going to be the case from here on out.”