With Friday afternoon’s PIAA vote that officially gave the go-ahead for the start of the Pennsylvania high school sports season, administrators, coaches and players across District 3 got a bit of a jolt.
Nothing is guaranteed, but, as things stand on Aug. 21, there will be high school sports in some shape or form in central Pa., despite the presence of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’d say my initial thought is just one sense of excitement for our student athletes and our coaches, because I think they’ve put in a lot of hard work, this summer,” Chambersburg athletic director Jeremy Flores said. “Just getting back in shape following and adhering to our health and safety plan. And it’s it’s just nice to know that all the hard work that we’ve done was not done for nothing.”
Others, like Waynesboro athletic director Eric McIlquham, are grateful that their student-athletes will have the outlet their teams will provide.
“The kids need this, our community needs this,” McIlquham said. “We can’t go another season without competing. I know for some kids, their safe haven is athletics and our school.”
Palmyra field hockey coach Kent Harshman echoed those comments, particularly expressing excitement for students who lost their spring seasons.
“Obviously, we’re thrilled to death, as I think most people are. Our kids have been bouncing off the walls, anxious to play,” Harshman said. “Obviously those who played a sport in the spring didn’t get to do anything there and if they were playing in the winter that got cut short as well.”
Those athletes and coaches will get to work on Aug. 24, unless their districts decide against participating in the season, concluding a long period of limbo for all parties as the PIAA wrestled with Gov. Tom Wolf’s recommendation to postpone all scholastic sports til Jan. 1.
“There was a lot of frustration for myself, our coaches and our athletes and ADs across the state. But at the same time I’m also not surprised,” Flores said. “If there was an easy solution, we would have made that decision months ago. The reality is there was no easy decision.”
A recurring theme among those in District 3 is that, while this was a promising first step to playing a season during a pandemic, that the effort is not over.
“I’m excited for our players to have an opportunity to play, especially our seniors, but this is not the end,” Lebanon High football coach Frank Isenberg said. “We still have to be diligent and cautious because one positive case can shut us down.”
Players know this, too, as they’ll have to help follow the procedures to prove the PIAA decision a good one.
“Now that we know that our season will happen, it’s important that we continue to follow the guidelines put in place to make sure everyone is safe,” Red Lion football player Davante Dennis said.
Other athletes, like Shippensburg’s Anthony Smith, posted gleeful reactions to the decision on Twitter.
Beyond the work toward mitigating the risks of spreading the virus, there are logistical challenges the school now face as well. Schools like Harrisburg and Milton Hershey have already decided against participation in the fall season, while Dallastown presented a motion to do so on Thursday, although it was tabled.
Dallastown football coach Ron Miller, who said he expected the PIAA to approve the motion, hopes his district uses this as a way to push forward safely.
“It such a wild time right now, and we’re doing the best we can out here in these difficult times,” Miller said. “And at the end of the day we want everyone to be safe.”
Flores says that athletic departments have learned through their COVID-19 experiences that getting ready for anything will continue to be a key moving forward.
“If there’s one thing that we’ve learned since March is that tomorrow is going to look a lot different than it did today,” Flores said. “It could be better. It could be worse. And we just have to be able to adapt and move with whatever that looks like.”
USA Today Network-Pennsylvania reporters Kevin Moore, Pat Huggins and Lee Goodwin contributed to this story.