The PIAA will require schools participating in the winter state championships complete a form listing any players or coaches on the team who are medically exempt from wearing a mask.
It’s the first sign the PIAA, which held a virtual board of directors meeting Wednesday afternoon, is looking to have some form of mask policy across the state after not doing so during the regular season, however limited it may be.
The form will not be required during district tournament play after some contention — including from WPIAL/District 7 representative Scott Seltzer — from districts who either had their own forms, have already begun district tournament play or object for other reasons.
Schools will submit the form to the opposing school the day of the competition. The PIAA is not strictly requiring doctor’s notes be submitted for each individual. PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi suggested even a note from parents would suffice, if the school deems it satisfactory. The PIAA will not question the forms.
“Each individual school district, by the order, has to do an individual assessment from our understanding of this. So, there is no blanket waiver of this,” Lombardi said.
“If a school lists [a bunch of people] on their list that those people have the exceptions, we’re gonna take them and we’ll go from there. How they determine that locally, we’re not gonna get into the validity of it. We’re gonna take them at their word that they did it properly. We do that in athletic eligibility.”
But the PIAA continues to oppose having referees, particularly in basketball, enforce proper mask-wearing during games.
There was no mention from the PIAA Strategic Committee, which proposed the form crafted by Aaron Straub, of how masks would be enforced.
Lombardi later said the PIAA’s policy for enforcement is effectively a meeting with the offending team some time after the conclusion of the game.
“Let’s say School A plays School B in the first round and,” Lombardi said, “the kids are wearing chin diapers. And the officials have gone to the head coach, and he hasn’t addressed it. And the officials at halftime go to the game manager, and the game manager goes over and addresses it and the coach gives them one of these blow-off type of things.
“We would be contacting them if we got a report — because we get a game report from every contest — and say, ‘Look, we can’t have this. Here are the provisions, here’s what we agreed to. You have the opportunity of certification if they’re not wearing it, otherwise, wear them properly.’”
Teams appear to have little recourse for action if the team they face has multiple players wearing masks improperly around their chins, something that has frustrated Mid-Penn Conference leaders who want referees to be the “mask police” during games.
For the second meeting in a row, incoming District 2 officials representative Jim Elliott pressed the PIAA about their health and safety guidelines, mixed messaging about masks and unwillingness to allow referees to enforce masks during games. Elliott spoke in January’s board meeting, questioning the PIAA’s lack of guidance. On Wednesday, the board limited public comment to three minutes — after not enforcing that time limit the previous meeting — and Elliott again pressed the PIAA, citing multiple NFHS rules that he believes allow refs to enforce masks as a uniform issue.
It is a similar grievance the Mid-Penn Conference has had. The Sentinel reported the PIAA intervened before winter sports began in January, telling the Mid-Penn it could not have referees enforces masks during games as the league had intended. Instead, the PIAA wants only athletic directors or game managers to enforce masks during games, and provided little guidance into how to correct behavior, halt play or report problems.
Lombardi said he would not rule out a game being stopped because a coach or team became unsportsmanlike when approached about improper mask-wearing, but he said nothing about schools being able to stop a game because of mask issues despite being asked several times who had the authority to enforce the rule.
The PIAA was reluctant to enforce any statewide mask policy in the winter, yet claimed it was following the Department of Health’s mask policy. The PIAA also claimed the Mid-Penn’s plan to have refs enforce masks during games violated the Department of Health’s mask policy established in November. The department disagreed.
Other notes:The team wrestling state championships have a date and location. They will be held the week of March 22-27, with the semifinals and finals March 27 at Cumberland Valley High School. That means CVHS will now host the state championships for team wrestling and swimming/diving this year because of the pandemic.The PIAA is proceeding with a spring preseason start of March 8, with contests for sports other than boys tennis to begin March 26. However, the PIAA has lifted its requirement of 15 preseason requirements and will only require 10 preseason practices. However, teams that finish those 10 practices before March 26 cannot begin regular season competition before that date.The PIAA Strategic Committee discussed changing the football calendar, an idea floated by Lombardi in January. If the schedule were to change — possible ideas tossed out included starting the season early and ending before Thanksgiving — it does not appear to be coming anytime soon.The PIAA amended language in its bylaws that will allow players to transfer schools without penalty in high school and middle school if their previous school dropped the sport they participated in.