Pottsville Area School District decided Tuesday night to ban all Fall high school sports practices and team workouts on its campus.
The ban is in place for at least Wednesday and Thursday but likely will last until the PIAA meets on Aug. 21 to further discuss the future of Fall high school sports for the 2020 season in Pennsylvania. Or it could be lifted if the administration changes its mind following a meeting later this week.
Pottsville Area Temporarily Bans Voluntary Fall Sports Practices and Workouts on Campus
During a special meeting of school board members, the group decided to defer to school administration on the topic of voluntary practices and workouts for Fall sports.
That put the pressure on new Interim Superintendent Jared Gerace to make the call. Ultimately, he said, “I would recommend that as far as tomorrow and Thursday we would not hold voluntary practices or congregate activities on campus and further discuss those safety protocols as an Athletic Committee and as an administrative leadership team Thursday.”
Gerace is referencing previous discussions held during the exhaustive 90-minute special school board meeting held Tuesday in which no votes were taken on either the Pottsville Area school reopening plan or on the Fall sports season.
In that meeting, Pottsville Area Athletic Director Eric Rismiller said the school’s Fall sports coaches have done “a fantastic job” at doing their best to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among its student-athletes and coaches.
Rismiller said since Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf “dropped the mic on us” last week and strongly recommended no sports activities happen until Jan. 1, 2021, Pottsville Area has implemented more strict safety protocol for its sports teams. That essentially amounts to, according to what Rismiller said during the meeting, limiting voluntary practices and team workouts to 2 hours.
Also, the school’s cheer team was not doing any stunt activities and stayed 6 feet apart from one another. And the football team was not participating in any 7-on-7 scrimmages with other teams.
Pottsville Area’s Athletic Committee meets on Thursday, Aug. 13 at 7 a.m., and these new safety protocols are expected to be a topic of discussion.
Based on that discussion, the school administration could decide to change course from tonight’s decision and reopen voluntary sports practices and workouts on campus, but that doesn’t seem likely.
Gerace seems to be deferring to guidance from the State Dept. of Health and Dept. of Education which, obviously, recommends that no sports activities – save for individual workouts, not in a team setting – be held until the new year, at least.
And reopening voluntary workouts would seem to go against the way a majority of school board members feel on the topic.
Board President Noble Quandel expressed concern over the school’s legal liabilities if it allowed these voluntary workouts to continue on campus. His biggest concern was the lack of definition on the term “voluntary” as it’s not clearly defined by the sports’ governing bodies.
“They’ve opened up a Pandora’s box on ‘voluntary’. If they defined that for us, it would take the risk out of it,” Quandel said.
Pottsville Area Solicitor Kevin Reid concurred and said, “There’s definitely liability exposure.”
Reid also said having students sign waivers saying they wouldn’t sue the school if they contracted COVID-19 wouldn’t be prudent.
“When you look at waiving liabilities, courts dislike that, especially when it relates to minors,” Reid said.
No Votes Taken
Because the school board did not place this issue on its special meeting agenda for Tuesday, Reid said it wouldn’t be wise for the board to vote on it. Pottsville’s school board meets again on Aug. 18, when it’s also expected to announce its reopening plan for the 2020-2021 school term.
That topic was also discussed at great length, with no formal action taken, on Tuesday.
So, that put the “decision” in the hands of the new Interim Superintendent who allowed a lengthy pause in the meeting before eventually speaking and telling the board and other administrators what would or would not happen with the voluntary sports practices. Right before he said he’s banning those voluntary sessions for at least 2 days but likely until next week or until the PIAA takes its next step at a meeting on the 21, Gerace’s facial expression showed he really didn’t want to say what he was saying but almost had to do it.
His full comment leading up to the anticipated statement went like this:
“As far as tomorrow, what I would recommend is .. we do have an Athletic Committee meeting scheduled for this Thursday at 7 a.m. … I would recommend because I know that Mr. Rismiller (Eric Rismiller, Athletic Director at PASD) and Mr. Mattea (Scott Mattea, assistant Athletic Director) had said tonight that they said, that they had emailed to me some recommendations and further strengthening of the safety protocols for the voluntary activities that are occurring right now, (pause) so I would recommend that as far as tomorrow and Thursday we would not hold voluntary practices or congregate activities on campus and further discuss those safety protocols as an Athletic Committee and as an administrative leadership team Thursday.”
You can watch the full meeting here: