Fall sports action limited at area schools

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High school sports fans at Germantown Academy, Germantown Friends School, Penn Charter, and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy won't be able to watch any of their varsity teams in action this fall. It isn't simply a matter of spectators not being allowed in the stands due to COVID-19 distancing rules; the leagues to which these schools belong, the Friends Schools League (GFS) and the Inter-Ac League, have put off all interscholastic athletic competition until January of 2021.

In contrast, all six fall sports teams should be in action at Mount St. Joseph Academy, one of the eight all-girls schools that belong to the Athletic Association of Catholic Academies. During the regular season, at least, the AACA schools intend to compete only against one another. However, as we've all learned during the Coronavirus pandemic, website administrators who are scheduling events always need to have a finger hovering near the "delete" key.

Throughout the summer, governing bodies of high school athletics across Pennsylvania have rolled out seemingly COVID-compliant strategies to allow student athletes to play during the fall season, and then have had to revisit and modify those plans as circumstances and perceptions changed. In Southeastern Pennsylvania, in particular, this process eventually culminated in the cancelation of fall sports at many institutions.

On August 3, the Inter-Ac League announced that it was contemplating a late start to the fall season, with a schedule featuring no non-league opponents. A few days later, on August 6, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued a "strong recommendation" for schools to delay the resumption of all scholastic sports (and youth recreational sports) until January of 2021.

The School District of Philadelphia scrapped its fall season on August 10. Individual suburban school districts which had already put the kibosh on autumn athletics included Norristown (July 30) and Pottstown (August 6). Other schools, school districts, and athletic leagues on the Main Line and in Chester County would take the same step during the remaining weeks of August.

Germantown Friends and the rest of the Friends Schools League bowed out of fall competition on August 18, and the Philadelphia Catholic League followed suit on August 24. Now, even if the Inter-Ac schools wanted to play games outside of their league, the majority of their traditional non-league opponents would be unavailable.

The Inter-Ac acted two days after the PCL, putting off official competition until 2021. The league's August 26 announcement also noted that a reimagined schedule allowing for three shortened seasons, each seven weeks long, was under consideration. Tentative starting and finishing dates have been penciled in, with winter sports beginning in early January, followed by the teams that traditionally play in the fall and then by a spring sports schedule.

The Friends Schools League is also trying to take a flexible approach to the reintroduction of interscholastic athletics, stating in its August 18 announcement that it's considering "designing a schedule to allow for the possibility of a compressed fall competitive season later in the year."

The Friends League and Inter-Ac schools (there are nine schools in each league) are members of the Pa. Independent Schools Athletic Association (PAISAA). The Philly Catholic League schools and the AACA institutions belong to the much larger Pa. Interscholastic Athletic Association, which also oversees public school programs in the state.

On August 21, the PIAA decided to remain open for business in the fall, with substantial COVID-19 precautions in place. Individual school districts and regional athletic leagues could either choose to participate or decide not to play. In many parts of the state fall sports are proceeding, following a modified format.

In Philadelphia, PIAA's District 12 has been put out of action entirely due to the withdrawal of the Philadelphia Public and Catholic Leagues. The counties surrounding Philadelphia fall within PIAA District 1, and the district is significantly fractured in regard to fall activities.

As mentioned, many schools that lie west of the Schuylkill won't be playing, while the largest league east of the river, the Suburban One League, is almost all-in. Cheltenham School District athletes have been sidelined, but 21 other SOL schools are going ahead with fall sports, including Plymouth Whitemarsh High School and Springfield Township High School.

Also grouped in PIAA District 1, the Catholic Academies are independent schools not bound by the strictures followed by the schools governed by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (the PCL). The eight league members, including the Mount, Gwynedd Mercy Academy in Gwynedd Valley, and St. Basil Academy in Jenkintown, decided that they could safely arrange intra-league competition.

After holding try-outs on September 21-23, AACA field hockey, soccer, tennis, and volleyball teams are slated to play a double round of league contests. The Mount St. Joseph cross country team has five regular-season meets lined up, and post-season District 1 and PIAA championship events have been scheduled.

The Mount's golf team is looking to defend its 2019 state championship, but instead of engaging in the normal head-to-head matches with league rivals during the regular season, several league-wide competitions have been set up. There are plans in place for both district and state championship tournaments.

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