With the PIAA announcing on Wednesday that it plans to proceed as scheduled with the winter sports season, athletic directors from across the area are preparing to deal with a unique set of challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Mid-Penn Conference has delayed the start to its winter season, YAIAA Executive Director Chuck Abbott said in a discussion with The Gettysburg Times that the league has no plans to make any alterations.
“We’ve told schools that they can proceed with the schedule we had previously presented,” Abbott said. “So they can start practice on Friday and then games start three weeks later.”
Teams can schedule inter-school games or scrimmages starting on Nov. 27, with Dec. 11 marking the first date of regular-season action.
Before any games are played, however, area athletic directors are dealing with a ton of questions regarding scheduling, ticketing and safety procedures.
“I just found out about the mask mandate today when I was on a call with another AD,” Fairfield athletic director Crystal Heller said. “So I just got out of a meeting with our coaching staff talking about how we’re going to get athletes acclimated and used to wearing masks while playing.”
Heller added that she plans on completing a full schedule, including non-conference games, in both girls’ and boys’ basketball as well as wrestling.
Ticketing for those games, however, is another issue. While Fairfield operated at 20 percent of its capacity for fall sports, in line with Governor Tom Wolf’s directions, Heller says that the school board is still evaluating options for the winter.
“Right now the plan is to take a percentage of our capacity,” she said. “But the school board is still discussing ticketing and we’ll make an official announcement at a later date.”
At New Oxford, athletic director Doug Wherley said they intend to proceed with the same plan implemented in the fall which saw athletes receive vouchers to be used at each home game.
“We’re finalizing a voucher system right now and trying to determine how many people we can host,” Wherley said. “Once we do that, those will be distributed to the athletes to use at each home game.”
The Colonials will compete in and out of conference in basketball, wrestling and swimming, though they’ve had to cancel the annual New Oxford Invitational wrestling tournament and reschedule swim teams practices which are held at Cross Keys Village.
“We are very thankful that Cross Keys has been very accommodating,” Wherley said. “We’ve worked with them to find a time for our kids to practice, which will be a bit later than normal but they’ve been very helpful throughout this process. And because we don’t have a home pool, all our meets are already away, so that’s not an issue.”
Similarly, Gettysburg’s swim program has been temporarily displaced, with all practices and home meets taking place at the YMCA this year rather than holding meets at Gettysburg College.
“Obviously we understand that they have to look out for the health and safety of their students and faculty,” Gettysburg athlete director Casey Thurston said. “We’ll be over at the Y for practices and meets, and unfortunately we won’t be able to have swimmers from other schools compete alongside our team like we’ve had in past years.”
The Warriors, who will field teams in basketball, wrestling and swimming, have also come across issues with scheduling on the mat.
“We’re currently looking at our options for dual tournaments,” Thurston said. “Being in (YAIAA-2), we have to get a few more duals against some larger opponents. So we’ve been in contact with some schools regarding that.”
Thurston added that she’s looking to schedule teams outside of the YAIAA in order to provide the wrestling team with the larger schools it will need to face in order to meet District 3 playoff qualification standards.
When it comes to home matches and basketball games, Gettysburg plans on operating at 20 percent of capacity, while only home fans will be allowed to attend, a mandate sent down by Abbot and the YAIAA.
As of Wednesday, Abbot said the league had yet to receive notification from any YAIAA schools that they will be forgoing winter sports, but that he expects a number of schools to delay the start of practices and games.
“Right now everything is changing rapidly,” he said. “So we’ve advised schools to plan as the season will start on Dec. 11 and if things change, we will notify them.”