BY STEVE BENNETT
The green phase doesn’t quite mean go for Pennsylvania high school football teams to begin organized offseason workouts. Garry Cathel, executive director of the Pennsylvania High School Football Coaches Association, said as much in an email sent to all coaches in the association Thursday.
“I sent out a constant contact email telling the coaches that it does not matter what color you are in right now,” Cathell said in a phone interview. “The PIAA says no workouts until July 1; that is the start date of the new school year. Technically, you can’t do anything. I told them don’t put yourselves in a bad situation with anything. Just stick by the rules.”
According to Cathell, there is confusion among counties that have gone from the red phase to yellow and yellow to green. There are still restrictions with those two color phases as Gov. Tom Wolf opens up the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic that closed schools in March and shut down the state basketball playoffs, as well as the entire spring sports season.
It is at this time of year when football coaches around the state would be conducting spring practices, and also preparing for the summer 7-on-7 passing scrimmages and other offseason workouts.
“Right now, it doesn’t matter what color we are in,” Cathell said. “That is where the confusion is with everybody. They think if it’s green, the county is opening up and we have a go. That is not the case.”
When the PIAA Board of Directors, the governing body of athletics in the state, met last week, they agreed to let PIAA executive director Dr. Bob Lombardi make the call in regard to what type of scholastic athletic activities can begin based on color phase.
“Once we get to green, we gave Dr. Lombardi the permission to use his discretion in permitting and allowing setting up practices,” said District 2 Chairman and newly elected PIAA Board of Directors president Frank Majikes. “It depends on the area. Dr. Lombardi has the authority. We are not going to hold back student-athletes if a region or county is given permission to resume activities.”
According to Cathell and Majikes, everyone is going to continue to follow the guidelines set forth by the governor as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Cathell said the biggest misunderstanding is that once the new academic year begins July 1, fall sports coaches believe that’s when they can get out on the field and begin workouts.
That’s the furthest thing from the truth.
“Right now, it doesn’t matter what color you are in; that is where some confusion is happening,” Cathell said. “People think that if it is green, we are opening up. That is not accurate. In talking with Dr. Lombardi, some of the things he mentioned coming out of last week’s meeting is that the board has given him the power to go ahead and make changes to the start date. He is only going to do that if the governor says everything is good to go. That is exactly where he is at.”
Cathell, as much as anyone, is hoping to have a full high school football season. He said everyone involved with the PIAA is hoping the fall sports season goes off without a hitch.
The fall sports season for the 2020-21 school year is set to begin Aug. 17, with heat acclimatization for football teams scheduled to start a week earlier.
“I have been in constant communication with Dr. Lombardi and he is going to follow the guidelines the governor sets,” Cathell said. “Dr. Lombardi wants things to open up. We just can’t do that right now; that is where the confusion is. People think that just because they are going to green they can do stuff. They can’t do anything. There are no organized team activities allowed.”
Until the PIAA gets the go-ahead from the governor, all fall sports and extra-curricular activities are on hold until Lombardi gets clearance from the governor.
“It will come from Dr. Lombardi, he will make the announcement,” Cathell said. “Dr. Lombardi is in touch with the governor’s office. If the governor says we can open earlier, Dr. Lombardi will make a decision. It also works the other way. If the governor has to move the date further back, he is willing to do that.”
But for now, Cathell and the rest of the coaches in the association are splitting into sub-committees to put together ideas about the football season. While Cathell would not get into specifics with the proposals, they range from potentially starting the season on time to playing a shortened season and expecting it to start no later than Oct. 12. Cathell said the end date is no later than Dec. 14, the traditional date for the fall sports season to end in time for winter sports to begin.
“The later it goes, it may mean we cap it at the district level,” Cathell said. “There are so many weeks you have to have a state championship. There are so many weeks you can have with the district playoffs. It may end up just having a league championship. It is going to be a tough call for a lot of school districts. Dr. Lombardi can give the green light, but it is going to be up to each individual district to make its own call to let the student-athletes in their own buildings.”
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