COVID-19 plays role in plan for local winter sports

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The rising number of cases of COVID-19 played a key role in a few big announcements today surrounding high school and collegiate sports.

The PIAA and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) each updated their COVID plans for the upcoming seasons. We saw two very different approaches to winter sports Wednesday. A collegiate conference pumping the breaks while the high school association presses on.

The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference canceled regular-season and championship athletics for winter sports. East Stroudsburg, Lock Haven, and Bloomsburg Universities compete under the PSAC.
Bloomsburg University athletic director Michael McFarland says the hope is that spring sports can still play come February.

“It’s disappointing that our students aren’t going to have the opportunity to compete. But at the same time for their health and safety, for the community, for our coaches, it was the right decision,” McFarland said.

Wilkes-Barre Area basketball coach Pat Toole says they were nervous officials would make the same call for high school teams. But during Wednesday’s board meeting the PIAA confirmed plans to press on with winter sports.

A sigh of relief for the Wolfpack.

“Our school district, our superintendent, want to do everything they can to ensure that our kids have some type of season. What our kids have to realize is that it might not be the kind of season that they had anticipated,” Toole said.

The PIAA also seeks clarification on the state’s newest mask mandate and how it applies to student athletes. Specifically, whether they have to wear masks while playing.

The board says the ball is in the school’s court. Toole says he thinks it would be difficult for athletes to wear masks while playing. But his captain, senior Cole Walker, says he’s willing to do whatever it takes.

“We’re just hoping we can play. We want to play. We’re excited to play if we can, so that’s basically it,” Walker said.

Practices for high school winter sports teams can officially start on Friday. But one thing Coach Toole said Wednesday night is that with all the changes, every time his team steps on the court, they’re playing like it could be their last time

McFarland says they’re looking into whether lower-risk sports like swimming and cross country can still compete. He says the university will continue to honor scholarships for student-athletes even if they can’t play.

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