After a long wait, the local winter sports season will hit full stride with some anxiety amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Although some schools played nonleague games the last two weeks, the Lackawanna League schedule will open Thursday in girls basketball, swimming and wrestling. Boys basketball tips off Friday.
While much will look the same, much will be different, including some closed gyms, mask wearing, social distancing and more opportunities for fans to view events via livestreams.
“There is an excitement to hear the pattering of feet and running, and the balls bouncing in the gyms,” said Forest City athletic director Brian Durkin. “Sports have stagnated. We got through the fall seasons because schools adopted safety protocols for their individual situations and we have them here for the winter and expect them for the spring. There was a lot of preparation that went into having a safe season for the athletes and I feel if everyone follows their procedures and continues in a safe manner we have a shot to have a season.”
Lackawanna Interscholastic Athletic Association gameday guidelines, which are expected to be approved today, were drafted by Mid Valley’s Tommy Nowakowski and Blue Ridge’s Scott Summers — their respective schools’ athletic director and trainer — and reviewed by schools last week.
Some of those requirements address the maximizing of social distancing, limiting the number of people at the scorer’s table, the suspension of postgame handshakes and the eliminating of shared basketballs by schools for warmups. Also, every school requires masks for attendance at events and for athletes during competition.
“We have covered everything,” Nowakowski said. “I am pretty confident with the guidelines we have come up with. We met virtually and we looked at the Colonial League in District 11 and its policies, we looked at the PIAA Return to Play guidelines and we looked at things that impact us locally. Then, we put together the game day procedures for basketball, Scott did a lot of the wrestling and we reached out to both Scott Gower (swimming president) and Chris Ross (wrestling president) to get feedback for anything we needed to add or subtract, so we are pretty happy.”
Because of safety precautions and gathering limitations based on capacity, eight schools will not allow spectators at athletic events. Those include, Dunmore, Elk Lake, Forest City, Lackawanna Trail, Mid Valley, Montrose and Old Forge. Abington Heights is not allowing fans through January.
Delaware Valley, Lakeland, Riverside, Scranton, West Scranton and Western Wayne are offering limited attendance for home fans. Other schools are providing limited attendance and will distribute tickets for players.
To accommodate the families and communities, almost all schools are offering livestreaming of athletic events. Mid Valley and Delaware Valley are using the subscription-based National Federation of High School Association Network to stream home events online.
Riverside, Delaware Valley and North Pocono held nonleague events ahead of the official start to the season.
“Riverside’s school board and Mr. (Paul) Brennan provided us the opportunity to play and we are thankful for that,” Riverside athletic director Dan Digwood. “The kids are excited. We have worked hard and all in all, we have been pretty lucky, so far. The events are a little different. You don’t have the packed gymnasium feel, but I am glad that we are giving families a chance to see the home games and the livestreaming is really big for all of the schools.”
Meanwhile, two schools will not start their seasons this week. Honesdale, which is conducting education virtually, and Montrose, which is also paused, are scheduled to get back in action Jan. 28.
In swimming, several dual meets will be held virtually because teams do not have access to pools. On Thursday, Valley View will be at Abington Heights for a boys and girls dual meet, and Holy Cross is scheduled to visit Delaware Valley for a girls meet. Times for athletes from Valley View and Holy Cross will then be compared to complete the Valley View-Holy Cross girls meet.
Lackawanna League wrestling matches are scheduled to start Saturday. North Pocono is on a pause until Jan. 25 because a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus. The Trojans will not have a meet until at least Jan. 30.
Based on the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association calendar, the winter sports season opened with practice Nov. 20 and a first contest date of Dec. 12. However, superintendents for LIAA schools delayed its first practice date to Dec. 4 and first league play date to Dec. 25, and later changed it to Jan. 21 after Gov. Tom Wolf suspended high school sports for three weeks in his efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 over the holiday season.
Joby Fawcett has covered high school sports — including football, girls and boys volleyball, girls and boys tennis, girls and boys swimming, boys basketball, girls and boys track and field, and girls and boys lacrosse — for 22 years. The High School Sports Blog offers deeper insights plus statistical and historical information for fans and features photos, videos and graphics along with Top 5 polls for tennis and volleyball. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5367; @sportsTT