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Wolf: There should be no sports until Jan. 1

Governor says comments are 'strong recommendation' but not a mandate

Gov. Tom Wolf in a press conference Thursday morning, stated he believes schools should not “do any sports until Jan. 1.”

Wolf was responding to a question about whether parents should be permitted to attend high school sporting events in the fall.

“The guidance is we should avoid any congregate settings,” Wolf said. “And that means anything that brings people together is going to help that virus get us. We ought to do everything we can to defeat that virus.

“So any time we get together for any reason, that’s a problem, because it makes it easier for that virus to spread. So the guidance from us — the recommendation — is we don’t do any sports until Jan. 1.”

Wolf later clarified in a release that it is a “strong recommendation” but not a mandate and that it is targeted at not only high school sports, but recreational youth sports not affiliated with schools as well. It also does not apply to collegiate or professional sports. Wolf reiterated the restrictions on gatherings remain in place — 25 or fewer at indoor events, 250 or fewer at outdoor events. Those numbers include participants, officials, event staff, news media, broadcasters and spectators.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association — the governing body of high school sports in the state — revealed it was holding an emergency meeting of its board of directors that began at 2:30 p.m. Thursday after it was blindsided by Wolf’s statement. It was a closed executive session, but the PIAA said a statement would be released once the meeting had concluded. At the conclusion of that meeting, the PIAA released the following statement:

“Today, Governor Wolf issued a statement of strongly recommending no interscholastic and recreational sports until January 1st. 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 Board of Directors will meet tomorrow afternoon, Friday, August 7, 2020, to review this action. PIAA will have an official statement tomorrow afternoon.”

Chris Harlan of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (TribLive.com) reported Thursday afternoon that PIAA administrators had a phone conversation with Wolf’s staff on Thursday after his comments. The PIAA urged Wolf to reconsider his recommendation, but were unsuccessful, according to Harlan.

On Monday, Wolf and Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine implied that there would be guidance regarding attendance at sporting events released Wednesday, but no further guidance came.

State House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, whose district includes part of Mifflin County, released the following statement:

“One again, Gov. Wolf changed course. After repeatedly saying school reopening decisions should be left to local school districts, after the PIAA paved the way for sports to safely resume, after his own Secretary of Health said earlier this week that guidance would be forthcoming, the Governor today issued another unilateral ‘recommendation’ — made without any advance notice — that is devastating for student athletes, parents and communities.”

The Mid-Penn Conference, which includes Mifflin County for all sports and Juniata football, voted earlier this week to delay the first practices until Sept. 4, making the earliest that football could be played Sept. 25, due to the PIAA’s mandated three-week preseason. Other conferences around the state have taken similar measures to delay and some schools have announced that fall sports teams would not be fielded.

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Managing Editor Brian Cox contributed to this report.

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated from its original version to reflect Wolf’s clarification, the PIAA emergency board meeting, and to include a statement from the PIAA and Senate Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff.

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