IU9 looking to begin high school play Sept. 14

Bob Parana - Staff Writer

Athletes, coaches, and all involved with high school sports breathed a sigh of relief Friday when the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) issued its statement giving the go-ahead to the fall sports seasons pending approval by individual school districts.

Monday the Seneca Highlands Intermediate Unit 9 (IU9) superintendents released a joint statement setting Sept. 14 as the first date competition can begin.

“Following the PIAA's vote on Friday, August 21, 2020, to allow fall sports to be a local decision and in the absence of a response from Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine, the Superintendents of the public schools in the McKean, Elk, Cameron, and Potter counties will propose to each of their respective School Boards, a regional fall sports schedule with the first week of competition being September 14, 2020. The athletic directors and high school principals are in the process of revising schedules in preparation for the individual District's proposals. The pandemic coordinators are revising fall sports health and safety plans and moving those plans forward for approval to each School Board. Per the PIAA's position, if each school's coaches, athletes, officials, and parents/guardians strictly adhere to the school district's health and safety plan for athletics, student athletes and coaches should be reasonably safe to play fall sports,” said the release.

Area teams were set to kick off the football season Aug. 28. The four-straight District 9 winning Ridgway Elkers were to start in St. Marys against the Dutch and the Kane Wolves were to host Moniteau. Varsity Golf and girls’ tennis matches had also been scheduled for this week with cross country, soccer, and volleyball set to begin Sept. 8. Ridgway and Johnsonburg co-op for football, golf, tennis, soccer, and cross country. Each school has a volleyball team.

Across the state, teams began voluntary workouts in July upon school board approved COVID-19 health and safety plans. Adhering to the guidelines had a major impact on the PIAA’s decision to play. Governor Wolf and the PA Department of Health recommended but didn't mandate all K-12 sports be postponed until January 1, 2021, back on Aug. 6. The PIAA tabled a decision for two weeks on Aug. 7.
The IU9 addressed COVID and the benefits of student-athletes participating in extra-curricular activities in Monday’s release.

“Regardless of the precautions in place, there is an increased risk of an exposure to COVID 19 for participants in fall sports. Ultimately, it is the parent/guardian's decision regarding whether their child will participate. The Superintendents and School Boards wish to provide student athletes with every opportunity to have a fall sports season in the safest manner possible.

“We believe the opportunity for students to participate in athletic and extra-curricular activities is important to their overall mental health and well-being and such experiences create an overall positive school climate. We also recognize the balance between physical health and mental health during a global pandemic. The school organized events that include strict adherence to protocols, wellness screenings of participants, and district to district communication affords a balance between ensuring physical health and mental health.”

In the release, the IU9 said each school will be closely monitoring the pandemic as things move forward. Games, matches, and meets will be held without spectators.

“Each school district's pandemic coordinator will carefully monitor the extent of community spread in their counties and school districts and will cancel games in order to ensure not risking an exposure beyond an athletic team's membership in a specific school district. School districts will not exceed the participation guidelines per Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine. Specifically, at outdoor venues there can be 250 participants and at indoor venues there can be 25 participants. Those participants include: student athletes, band members, cheerleaders, coaches, directors, officials, game management/help, and ambulance staff (football). Spectators will not be permitted. There will be no concessions. Further, senior nights will be planned for very early in the season to ensure that seniors are properly honored. Each District will make every effort to live stream Fall athletic events to their communities, to the extent that they are capable.”

Public high schools in the IU9 coverage area include Ridgway, Johnsonburg, and St. Marys in Elk County. McKean County public schools Kane, Smethport, Bradford, Port Allegany, Smethport, and Otto-Edred; Potter County schools include Coudersport, Austin, Galeton, Northern Potter, and Oswayo Valley. Cameron County is also represented by the IU9.

The IU9 schools are part of the PIAA’s District 9 which also includes Elk County Catholic, Brockway, Brookville, Clarion, Curwensville, DuBois, Keystone, Karns City, Moniteau, Punxsutawney, Redbank Valley, Union-AC Valley (co-op), and Sheffield which compete in the Large and North and South Divisions of the District 9 Football League. Other District 9 high schools with sports programs are A-C Valley, Clarion-Limestone, Clearfield, Cranberry, DuBois Central Catholic, Forest Area, North Clarion, Union, and Venango Catholic.