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PIAA says it’s not up to officials to enforce masks

PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi said it is not the purview of officials to worry about whether or not high school athletes are wearing masks properly during competitions. Lombardi said following the PIAA Board of Directors meeting Wednesday officials are to judge only the action on the court or wrestling mat, and not whether competitors are wearing masks properly.

The topic was raised during the monthly board meeting after District 2 official Jim Elliott asked for guidance from the PIAA during the public comment portion of the meeting about how officials were supposed to handle the situation. Elliott said he had reached out to the District 2 rules interpreter and the PIAA’s Patrick Gebhart, who oversees the officials, but received no answer on the subject.

Gebhart said in the most recent basketball bulletin given to officials, they are not to enforce the masking rule because they do not have the authority provided by the PIAA Board of Directors to enforce it. Enforcement of the masking rules is to be handled by the competition’s game manager, which is often the home team’s athletics director.

Lombardi said the PIAA supports the order issued by the state’s Department of Health which requires athletes to wear masks while competing. He also said they will continue to defer to the state’s orders on the subject. Lombardi also said these are the mandates for only now, hinting there may be changes in the masking orders for the postseason.

“It’s not a choice for individuals to say ‘I’m not wearing my mask today,'” Lombardi said. “The coach should instruct the players to put on their mask properly if that is their policy. We want to keep everybody safe, that’s why we’re not opposed to the mask rule. We just want to do it at the optimum level to make sure everyone is safe.”

Athletes can get a medical exemption with a doctor’s note which in which a pre-existing condition would be exacerbated by wearing a mask during competition. PIAA Legal Counsel said the PIAA can’t override schools citing mask exemptions for the entire team. They also cannot override the state mandate that masks be worn during competition. And the Department of Health has said that without a note from a doctor exempting an individual from wearing a mask during competition, individuals are in violation of the mask mandate.

While unclear, Lombardi made it sound like he hopes to have conversations with the state regarding the mandatory masking policy for athletes. He’s heard of issues of athletes getting light-headed and dealing with headaches after taking the masks off following competition. He’s heard of issues with wrestlers fingers getting caught in masks, or injuries to the facial area which cause bleeding. He’s also concerned about the byproduct of masks getting wet during competition because of the combination aspiration of breathing and perspiration, which then causes a whole other set of circumstances.

“We’re trying to present evidence to the administration where maybe it shows people on the competition surface not wearing masks like you see at other levels of competition makes sense,” Lombardi said. “But we’re not there yet.”

In other news from the Board of Directors meeting, the board approved a change in venue for this year’s PIAA Swimming and Diving Championships. Because of restrictions on the campus of Bucknell and the lack of extra space on campus as Bucknell chooses not to have a spring break this year, it wasn’t feasible to bring the state meet back to Lewisburg.

Instead, the board approved Wednesday for the state meet to be held at Cumberland Valley High School, which also hosts the District 3 meet. PIAA associate executive director Melissa Mertz said regardless of where the state meet is held, there wouldn’t be able to be fans in attendance. But familiarity with Cumberland Valley and its facilities is the best option for the PIAA meet this year.

“A couple things made it attractive to us. We’ll have use of the auxiliary gym, the cafeteria and the auditorium so we can space people out. That was really big for us.”

The state diving meet will be limited to district champions only this year, and the meet will be held on March 13. The Board of Directors had previously approved a reduction in the number of qualifiers to the state swim meet, which will be held on March 19 and 20.

PIAA Chief Operating Office Mark Byers said no official date has yet been set for the state Team Wrestling Championships, which have been postponed to after the state individual meet scheduled for March 12 and 13. The PIAA is currently looking at March 20 being the deadline date for districts to have their team tournaments completed so they can begin the state team tournament the following week.

Also, Lombardi said he expects the Football Steering Committee to begin discussions on potentially amending the state football schedule. Potential changes could be beginning practice earlier, reducing the number of required preseason practices, reducing the number of regular season competitions, and permanently moving the state finals to Thanksgiving weekend.

All of those options will be discussed as the steering committee gets together prior to the next Board of Directors meeting on Feb. 17. Lombardi said, if it’s determined changes are to be made, there’s a chance they could go into effect for this fall’s season. But in order to do that, approval from the board would have to come by the end of the school year.

“We learned some lessons this past fall,” Lombardi said. “We heard from schools on things that we did that assisted them in planning and playing games. Being able to regionalize games before the final game was helpful, washing away some of that East-West stuff. I think there’s a number of items we need to look at as a strategic planning committee.”

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