Pennsylvania governor tries to shut down all youth sports due to COVID-19

Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf defended his recommendation yesterday to delay youth sports until January 2021 due to coronavirus concerns.


Democrat Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf defended his recommendation yesterday to delay youth sports until January 2021 due to coronavirus concerns, at a press conference in York.

Wolf reiterated his priority of education ahead of athletics.

"We're trying to do everything we can to make sure that we get our kids back to learning," Wolf said. "I don’t see how transporting whatever-age population back and forth across county borders is going to help in the effort to mitigate this disease and get us back to learning. So let's put [sports] on pause."

He noted that his daughters were fall cross country athletes at Northeastern York High School in York County.

"And you think, 'cross country must be one of those sports that is least likely to have a [COVID-19] spread', but all those parents would congregate at the finish line."

Wolf reiterated that the state should focus on education and "anything that interferes with that, we ought to be careful about doing that."

"The extent we do those things makes it harder and harder for our kids to get the education we need them to get. We need them to be in school. We need to get them back to learning."

Then Wolf called any interference with schooling a "disservice" to "all of  us, all of Pennsylvania."

This is just the latest of Wolf's dismissal of fall sports.

At the end of a press conference last Thursday morning with state Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, Wolf recommended that all youth sports—interscholastic and recreational—postpone until Jan. 1.

"The guidance is we should avoid any congregate settings. And that means anything that brings people together is going to help that virus get us," Wolf stated.

On Aug. 6, the state's Department of Health and Department of Education jointly clarified that Wolf's remark is a "strong recommendation and not an order or mandate."

Wolf's out-of-nowhere comments came after the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association's Sports Medicine Advisory Committee unanimously agreed in July that sports could be played safely and fall sports would start on time without delay.

The PIAA board meeting notes read:

"Based on currently known information, the Committee believes that STRICT ADHERENCE by schools and teams to their school-adopted plans and the Governor’s School Sports Guidance should provide a reasonably safe environment for student athletes to participate in interscholastic athletics as currently scheduled."

Pa. House of Representatives Republican majority leader Kerry Benninghoff asked the PIAA, the governing body for school sports, to "take an independent stand from the governor" with the support of the majority of the General Assembly.

"Like you, I was tremendously disappointed in Gov. Wolf's intimidating 'recommendation' to cancel all recreational and interscholastic athletics until January of 2021," Benninghoff started the open letter.

"I understand that you feel enormous pressure from Gov. Wolf, who has often been punitive against those who have gone against him, and constrained by his recommendation," he continued.

Benninghoff went on to explain that school-aged children need the opportunities fall sports provide to learn important life lessons in teamwork, ethics, and integrity.

"The social, mental, and emotional experiences athletics provide are irreplaceable. Athletics are not just for fun, they are critical to student learning, personal growth, and the future success of our children," he urged.

In response to Wolf's recommendation, the PIAA rebutted in a press statement: "We are tremendously disappointed in this decision. Our member schools have worked diligently to develop health and safety plans to allow students the safe return to interscholastic athletics."

The PIAA was not informed of Wolf's intentions until he revealed them publicly at the news conference, providing no context for how his administration reached this conclusion and no explanation for the logic behind the timeline. PIAA administrators later had a phone conversation with Wolf's staff and urged the governor to reconsider his position.

"We were not successful," PIAA associate executive director Melissa Mertz told TribLive HSSN.

The PIAA board then held an impromptu meeting that Thursday but delayed action until Friday, releasing an update to its review of the governor's declaration and calling the strong recommendation "a potential negative impact on the students' physical, social, emotional, and mental health."

The PIAA board will reconvene on Aug. 21. "It is clear to PIAA, the unintended consequences of cancelling fall sports needs to be further reviewed," the association concluded.

This leaves the PIAA to face a dilemma with fall sports scheduled to start in 10 days: either agree with Wolf and postpone fall sports, reversing the PIAA's agenda, or allow sports to continue against the advice of the state’s health department.

Wolf left the decision to school administrators and school boards.

Republican State Rep. Jesse Topper stated his case as Bedford High School football coach.

"We told [our players] that if you wear your mask, social distance at meetings, split your time in the weight room—they've done all those things—we said if you follow these protocols, you will have the opportunity to play," Topper began.

"To now come back to them and say, 'You've done everything right, but you know what, we still don't have the will to let that happen,'" he continued.

Topper went on to explain that student athletes, parents and fans understand the "inherent risk" for sports, even when it comes to physical injury. "That's why there's an ambulance that sits out by the football fields on Friday nights."

But that risk-benefit ratio has always been left up to the families to determine, he emphasized, seeing no difference with the coronavirus contraction worries.

Topper moved on to criticize Wolf who had stated that he felt the "cause was worth the risk" to attend a protest in the streets of Harrisburg.

"We cannot just allow one person from Pennsylvania to discern for everyone which causes are worth the risk and which are not. That decision needs to be left up to parents and it needs to be left up to families," he concluded, mic dropping that if residents allow Wolf to run Pennsylvania children's lives instead, then "we have a problem far greater than COVID-19."


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