High school sports teams got a boost from the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association even though they are still shut down until Jan. 4.

The PIAA Board of Directors voted unanimously Tuesday to lower the number of preseason practice requirements from 15 to 10 before a team can compete in a contest.

Gov. Tom Wolf suspended high school and youth sports for three weeks beginning Dec. 12 to mitigate the COVID-19 surge in the Commonwealth. Although winter sports season in the PIAA officially started Nov. 20 and many teams had reached the 15-practice plateau, many more had a delayed start and some didn’t start at all. Tuesday’s vote via Zoom means teams now have a chance to compete sooner.

A tiered system was also adopted by the PIAA with the required number being reduced based upon the number of practices completed by schools.

“Ten days of practice seemed to be a standard that would not compromise the health and safety of the student-athletes,” PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi said. “We ran it by the (PIAA) sports medicine (committee) and they supported this tiered return to competition. So, if a school had no practices until now, they will need to get in 10 practices after Jan. 4 before competition. If they had completed one, two, three, four or five days of practice previously, they will need to add the number of practices to that total to equal 10 in order to start competition.”

Schools that completed the previous 15 preseason practice requirement must complete four days of practice upon return before holding a contest or scrimmage, based on a previous rule the PIAA approved earlier this school year. Therefore, Jan. 8 is the earliest a team can participate in a competition.

Sports such as swimming, gymnastics, rifle and bowling, which require the use of off-campus facilities, must complete a minimum of five practices.

Lombardi reiterated the motions already accepted that extends the regular season deadline, the district deadline, and allows for competitions for teams not in or eliminated from the postseason not to exceed 22 for basketball and wrestling and 18 for swimming and diving until March 27.

The PIAA scheduled its next meeting for Jan. 6 in the event Wolf extends the suspension of activities.

“The reason we picked the 6th is to monitor what is coming on the 4th,” Lombardi said. “We are planning on the 4th. That’s the information that we have today. We are taking the information that we received at their word. They used their best judgment to come up with that date and we are going to work off that date as an anchor. And then if by chance it moves or becomes fluid, we believe we would be able to get the most current information on the 6th and of we need to adjust it we will.

“We are hopeful that it starts (Jan. 4), because it gives schools the most optimum number of days to get a winter schedule in without negatively impacting spring.”

While the PIAA remains steadfast in holding a winter sports season, Lombardi was noncommittal as to how far the season could be pushed back without drastically impacting spring sports.

“By changing all the deadlines that we have, we have given maximum flexibility and at this time, there is no sentiment to go past the winter deadlines,” Lombardi said. “Because of what happened last spring, no one wants to negatively impact the spring sports season.”

Wolf shut down schools March 12 for two weeks, then closed them for the remainder of the school year, effectively ending the winter sports postseason and all of the spring season.

The 2021 spring sports season officially start with practice March 8.

Also Tuesday, the PIAA postponed the team wrestling championships from Feb. 11-13 until sometime after the individual championships, which are scheduled for March 11-13. By moving the team championships, it allowed schools more time tom complete a regular season.

Lombardi said the team championships could be held between the individual championships and the basketball championships, which are scheduled for March 25-27, or possibly March 29-30 based on venue availability.

Plans for the state swimming championships are not finalized, either. The swimming steering committee is still looking into the possibility of a two-day event rather than four, and logistics are being worked out with host Bucknell University.

“We have had some preliminary discussions as staff about a two-day swimming meet, having diving on a separate weekend or day all together,” PIAA associate executive director Melissa Mertz said. “We probably will have to look at that schedule more closely once we know more from Bucknell, if we can be there, how many days we can be there, etc.”