Winter sports season delayed amidst COVID increases

Hold on now.

That was the directive given to local winter sports athletes at Thursday’s meeting of Athletic Directors from the Lackawanna Interscholatic Athletic Association (LIAA).

The official start of the winter sports season scheduled to get underway Friday, Nov. 20, has been pushed back to December 4. Earlier in the day, superintendents of the LIAA schools agreed to the delay and mandated the district athletic directors to amend schedules.

Several LIAA member schools had already pushed back the start – or suspended winter sports indefinitely – as the number of positive COVID-19 cases increases throughout the area.

Aside from pushing back the first day of official practices, the Dec. 4 start impacts interscholastic contests. According to PIAA rules, teams must have at least 15 practices before the first competition games and meets cannot be played until Dec. 25.

While girls and boys’ basketball will see only their non-league schedule impacted, the sports of wrestling and swimming had league meets scheduled that are affected by the season delay.

Wrestling will push the two matches scheduled in December to Saturdays in January. The Saturdays were left open for teams to compete in tournaments, but since most tournaments have been cancelled, this will enable the move.

“That will fit into a puzzle,” said Athletic Director Committee Chair Joe Gilhool of Montrose. “With all the tournaments being cancelled, our dates are wide open, especially on Saturdays.”

Aside from the team matches scheduled in December, traditionally the Lackawanna League Individual Championships are conducted, and that tournament was moved to February. The status of the tournament remains up in the air as PIAA has mandated a limit of eight teams.

Swimming, affecting only the co-sponsored Elk Lake and Montrose team locally, will have a meeting at a later date according to League Swim President Scott Gower.

Aside from adjusting the schedule, schools that host swim meets are looking for more guidance concerning the use of face coverings (masks) from the PIAA and the Governor’s office. The group will also discuss the possibility of holding virtual swim meets, which has been presented as an option.

In basketball, teams are allowed to make up any missed contests after Dec. 25 however league play begins Jan. 4 for the girls’ divisions and Jan. 5 for the boys’.

“It will be each school’s decision,” said Gilhool. “I hope school districts don’t try to get all 22 games in, but I’m sure some will.”

At Thursday’s meeting, concerns were raised about teams meeting the number of games needed to qualify for District II playoffs, if those are held. Gilhool informed the committee that, as of now, teams need only to schedule 11 games and complete one-third of the 22-game season.

While the mandate delayed the start of official practices, it was agreed that schools could choose to continue voluntary workouts until Dec. 4.

Elk Lake Athletic Director Tony Blaisure said that the varsity programs at the school would be allowed to continue voluntary workouts but that junior high programs would be on hold until Dec. 4. Susquehanna Community is allowing voluntary workouts at all levels of play.

Blue Ridge is currently in a remote learning schedule (until Nov. 30) and Athletic Director Scott Summers said coaches would not be allowed to resume voluntary workouts until Nov. 30. Forest City is also prohibiting voluntary workouts until that date.

Gilhool said Montrose has ceased all activities until Dec. 4. Mountain View has not made a decision about the start of their winter sports’ season but the board was expected to address the matter at their Monday, Nov. 23 meeting.

“I look forward to a good discussion and having all the information in front of us, so that we can make a decision that’s in the best interest of our students and our student athletes,” said Mountain View Board President Jason Richmond.


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