By Matt Smith
Earlier this week the Central League adopted a plan for a truncated fall sports season. The return of interscholastic sports was subject to school districts’ approval. Since Monday evening, Central League school boards have been busy giving fall teams the “yes” vote to play. As of Thursday evening, approval was granted to Garnet Valley, Haverford, Marple Newtown, Springfield, Strath Haven and Upper Darby.
The Central League consists of 12 teams from Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. The 10 schools from Delaware and Chester counties are abiding by the altered recommendations provided by the Chester County Health Department, which last week removed language stating that interscholastic athletics should not begin until January.
“Everyone has to be responsible and look out for each other,” Ridley football coach Dave Wood said. “We have to do this the safest way possible and take every precaution possible. This is a different year, it’s going to be different in a lot of ways for the players and coaches. I know our guys are excited to get back out there and get working again. It’s been tough on all of them and I’m just glad they get an opportunity to try and play football. I think everyone feels that way.”
Team meetings will look a lot different this year, especially for football. There will be no more team huddles in the locker room or in a classroom before every practice and game. Teams must apply social distancing in locker rooms and on the sideline. To alleviate the issues coaches will utilize Zoom video conferences, Hudl film sessions and outdoor meetings more than ever before.
Not every Central League school is allowed to play every sport. Lower Merion School District, home to Lower Merion and Harriton, approved an updated health and safety plan in alignments with athletic guidelines from both the Montgomery County Office of Public Health and the PolicyLab of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Team sports considered to pose a high risk of COVID- 19 transmission include football, and therefore that sport will not be played at Lower Merion and Harriton in the fall.
“If the metrics chases, these sports can be played, but right now, our community is not at an incidence level sage enough to proceed with high contact sports,” Harriton athletic director Tom Ferguson and Lower Merion athletic director Jason Stroup said in a joint statement posted on the school district’s website Thursday.
Lower Merion and Harriton football players organized a protest outside the school district’s administration building Thursday. Junior Paul Liang of Lower Merion posted a statement on Twitter for school leadership, listing several reasons why the football teams should be allowed to play.
“The student-athletes’ mental health is very important in my opinion and I hope that our mental health is also important to you guys. (A) study shows that2out of3student-athletes in America are suffering from depression and anxiety over canceled sports. I do not think student- athletes in our school district are outliers when it comes to this statistic.
“Our future is on the line. I love my teammates and I care about them. I see my team as my family and my teammates as my brothers. I got a lot of talented and hard-working brothers that need to showcase their talent on the field this fall so they can get their chances to play at the next level. Our school has always had excellent traditions when it comes to producing student-athletes for the next level.”
The first practice date for golf, girls tennis, field hockey, boys and girls soccer, volleyball and cross country is Tuesday. The first regular season competition date for golf is Friday, Oct. 1.
Beginning Tuesday, football teams will be required to hold a week of heat acclimatization, which includes no contact/ tackling drills. The following three weeks, beginning Monday, Oct. 5, will be normal practice weeks for football. Football teams will have as many as two scrimmage dates prior to the regular season opener Friday, Oct. 23.
Subject to change, the final competition dates for all sports are as follows: Oct. 26 (golf), Oct. 31 (girls tennis), Nov. 7 (cross country), Nov. 21 (field hockey, soccer, volleyball) and Nov. 28 (football and cheerleading).
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