Sunday rule needs to make sense

Back when I started in this business, I noticed that there almost never were athletic events on a Wednesday.

That, the old sports editor told me, was the “dirty little secret” of high school sports – the leagues agreed not to play on that day because too many people wanted to be in church.

I’ve never been sure why that was dirty or a secret – last I checked, going to church was a good thing, and, establishment clause aside, I’ve never considered it a bad thing when school officials were mindful of the religious choices of their charges.

Over the course of my career – part of which has been in the news department – I’ve seen schools act in ways that clearly violate the spirit and the intent of Supreme Court rulings dating back to the year I was born, culminating in the so-called Lemon Test established by a 1971 ruling, which provides guidelines for school (or other state-sponsored) activities that may clash with the First Amendment.

I’m understanding – supportive even – when school districts don’t want to allow school events on Sunday. And there is nothing illegal about that.

Follow that to the beginning of the winter season, when Mifflin County High School’s competitive spirit team was trying to assemble a schedule around the school’s Sunday competition ban, one that applied to the squad as a varsity team, but not the previous year as a club.

I spoke to a member of the school administration about that in December, and reported in a previous column the answer: that the athletic competition ban was absolute – that, for example, if the PIAA scheduled a state tournament event on a Sunday (as it did in an interdistrict field hockey game last fall), Mifflin County would forfeit rather than play on a Sunday.

Then came last Thursday’s school board meeting, and this little tidbit tucked into the agenda, as reported in The Sentinel on Friday: “A recommendation to approve the Mifflin County High School Indoor Drumline to attend the Tournament of Bands Indoor Association Chapter 4 Championships at Williamsport High School on Sunday, April 28.”

Perhaps the drumline, presumably a subset of the band, is a club like the cheerleaders used to be, and thus allowed to compete on a Sunday. Perhaps the whole band would be allowed to go – maybe you can play music on Sunday, just not ball games.

Or maybe this is a case where school officials need to be less rigid, and more in tune with the wants and needs of the students.

I’d like to believe the school would not really force a group of athletes to forfeit a chance at a state championship because of the calendar – and perhaps it should sit down with the cheerleaders and work out a plan that allows them to go to a few Sunday events if it means they get to participate in more and better competition.

In light of the drumline recommendation, it seems only fair.

Down the road in Juniata County, two school board agenda items from last week caught my attention. The district is going to hire a full-time athletic director, and is applying to the PIAA to form a cooperative with its two junior high field hockey programs.

The former – that will cover all the scholastic sports in the district – is a good idea that will take pressure off the four people who are sharing the job now.

The field hockey move is a good start, but this is a program that should have been merged when Juniata County’s financial dilemma first surfaced, and the backbiting between the boosters from the two schools has caused the programs both to languish.

Juniata’s revolving-door coaching situation is troublesome, and injuries forced the Indians to play shorthanded in several games a year ago. Low numbers at both schools have clipped junior varsity teams that prepare the younger players for the future.

Put the two together. Split the games between the schools, like the wrestlers did this year. If you want to play better teams in the postseason, organize as an East Juniata team. If you want an easier road to the state tournament, become a Juniata team.

The school district has ceded its authority in an area where it is supposed to make the best decision on behalf of the students in this matter, and it’s past time the board and administration step in.

Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at