HARRISBURG (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review) – Spring sports athletes and coaches can shed their masks when outdoors, as long as they maintain 6 feet of physical distance, according to new PIAA guidelines for covid-19. The PIAA board met online Wednesday and approved Return to Competition Guidelines for baseball, softball, track and all other spring sports, the final administrative step before preseason practices could start statewide Monday. Spring sports were canceled entirely last school year because of the pandemic, costing athletes an entire season.
“Everybody is really committed to doing whatever we can to get a full season for those spring athletes that lost it last year,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said. Teams can start competition March 26. Postseason plans remain undecided, Lombardi said, with hopes that spring sports could feature full brackets rather than the champions-only approached used in fall and winter. The 24 pages of guidelines released Wednesday provide recommendations for schools, coaches, athletes, officials, parents and others. They’re similar in many ways to guidelines announced before the fall and winter seasons with recommendations for covid-19 screenings, sanitation practices and physical distancing.
The guidelines say “coaches, athletes (including cheerleaders), and spectators must wear face coverings if they cannot maintain sustained physical distance from persons outside of their household. This includes while actively engaged in workouts, competition, and on the sidelines, in the dugout, etc.” However, the PIAA adds, “if sustained 6-foot distancing can be maintained, face coverings may be removed when outdoors.” Mask-wearing during competition became a source of conflict for some schools as sports moved indoors in the winter. Along with general recommendations, there were many tailored for specific spring sports.
For example, the PIAA say teams may use their own baseballs when in the field, switching each half-inning between home and away. Should a school take this option, it must inform its opponent in advance. Among the others:
- If a baseball pitcher wears a mask, it must be a solid, dark color. Softball pitchers cannot wear optic yellow. Pitchers are encouraged to not lick fingers or blow into their hands, but that’s not a mandate.
- Umpires are required to wear a face covering behind the plate. The PIAA discussed but rejected a suggestion to let umpires call ball and strikes from behind the pitcher.
- If possible, track and field athletes should provide their own throwing implements and retrieve them after each throw. Shared implements, starting blocks and batons should be sanitized between each use. Likewise, vaulters should not share vaulting poles.
- Races of 800 meters or longer are considered moderate risk activities, so the PIAA recommends they be “run in alleys or minimally one turn staggers.”
- Relay runners may wear disposable gloves.
- Lacrosse players are not required to wear a mask during competition since they already wear a helmet and mouth guard.
“Using football as an example, wearing a mask in addition to a mouth guard and a helmet would likely create a medical issue for the athlete whether the athlete is a professional or youth player even if a previous medical issue was not present,” the PIAA wrote.
- The lacrosse recommendations include plans for a socially distant stick check before games: “All players will put their sticks on the ground in a line (not a pile) and players step back to their bench. Officials will then come through and conduct the stick checks without interaction or proximity to the players.”
- The PIAA made no changes to the draw, but recommended lacrosse goalies “roll or throw” the ball to an official after a goal.
- Volleyball maintained many of the recommendations used in the fall, but line judges will be required in the spring. They were optional in the fall when indoor events were limited to 25 people.
- The PIAA notes that there’s no evidence covid-19 can be transmitted by touching tennis balls, but recommended players should sanitize their hands and avoid touching their face.
Athletes competing in the PIAA individual wresting championship will receive six tickets apiece, now that the governor has raised gathering limits on events, Lombardi said.
The PIAA also hopes to allow state basketball finalists to bring between 600 and 700 spectators to the Giant Center in Hershey later this month, but those plans remain unfinished, he said. Attendance options increased greatly Monday when Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration raised limits on gatherings.
Indoor events are now limited to 15% of capacity regardless of venue size. Previously, all indoor events were capped at 500.
Giant Center seats 10,500, but the 15% total must also include event staff working in the arena, Lombardi said.