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A New Normal

Before they could board the waiting school bus, the anxious softball players and their coaches dutifully lined up, not to have their ticket punched, but rather to individually have their temperatures taken and answer a serious of health-related questions posed to them by the school’s athletic trainer and athletic director. Face coverings were required inside the bus, and the occupants took their seats mindful of the required social distancing. The bus driver’s now standard equipment included a face shield and mask.

As the bus began its journey to that most-anticipated first game of the season, a voice was heard to say, “I’m sure not a fan of these new-normal procedures.” Most likely, most people share that very sentiment, but it is becoming painfully obvious that if there is to be any type of scholastic sports seasons this autumn, this is the way things will be working.

When the bus arrived at its destination, it was met by the hosting school’s athletic director with temperature gage in hand. A half-hour after the players were screened before their departure, the same procedure was repeated. Once cleared, the players were directed to their bench area, which was void of all spectators. The coaches were required to wear masks, and arriving spectators were limited to areas behind the field’s outfield fencing.

BUT, with all that said, the first game of the season was played, participants abided by the stated rules, and two teams of young people were able to play the sport they loved. Just how much longer this will be the case is anyone’s guess at this juncture. The question of “to play or not to play” is akin to a tennis match that is being volleyed back and forth by those entrusted with the delicate balance of maintaining the public health while providing some semblance of athletic participation normal.

This column is being written before the scheduled first weekend of high school football last Friday. While I’m not sure how many of those games actually took place, the game between Loyalsock and Warrior Run was canceled the Wednesday prior following the discovery of a COVD-19 positive test following a scrimmage between the Lancers and Danville September 5th.

At that time, Loyalsock superintendent Jerry McLaughlin released a statement noting, “Any staff member serving as a football coach or player will be quarantined until September 18th. The PA Department of Health will continue to contact trace as they continue with this investigation.”

On that same September 5th, a scheduled football scrimmage between Troy and South Williamsport was canceled just moments before it was to begin due to a positive COVID test. Subsequently, the Mountaineers September 11th and 18th home games with Muncy and CMVT have been canceled.

The area high school football teams’ schedules have already seen a reduction from ten games to seven for most teams due to the pandemic restrictions. Athletic directors were busy configuring the new schedules, which, for the most part, are now limited to league games only, with further restrictions pertaining to travel in place in some areas.

Heartland Athletic Conference teams are playing only league opponents, while schools in Tioga County (Wellsboro, North Penn, and Cowanesque Valley) are choosing not to play schools in Lycoming County and south. The revised regular-season schedules will conclude October 23rd. The future of District playoffs has yet to be determined.

The question remains for those games that are scheduled to be played; will fans be permitted to watch?

Governor Wolf’s previous directive limited attendance at outdoor gatherings to 250. For football games, the collective number of players, coaches, officials, game personnel, cheerleaders, and bands in many cases already exceeds that number. Fans, and most importantly, parents, should be afforded the opportunity to see their sons and daughters participate, particularly critical, should an injury occur. Individual school districts are left to ponder the answer.

Recently, the East Lycoming School District talked publicly about their intentions.

“We’re trying to do what’s equitable for our students, parents, grandparents, and friends,” stated school board president Richard Michaels.

Superintendent Michael Pawlik indicated that for football, two tickets would be available to parents of senior players and one ticket for parents of junior players. He added that athletic director Ken Tallman will soon be posting the particulars of the district’s plan for all sports.

Certainly, no one likes what is certain to be the limited availability of access to local sporting events. Each school district is trying its best to provide the best of both worlds; sports and fans, during this difficult time when COVID-19 is the dreaded opponent. If we are to have any sports, EVERYONE involved must follow the established rules, whether we like it or not.

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