NEPA Sports Nation

PIAA staff updates local schools

By Tom Robinson,

The annual meeting of District 2 of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, conducted virtually Tuesday, featured information being shared rather than significant actions being taken.

PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi and the rest of the PIAA staff attended, provided updates to representatives of District 2 schools on various issues, ranging from impending by-law changes to plans for state championship events.

“Our intent is to not only provide a full season for spring sport athletes, but also to hopefully provide a full bracket of qualifiers and advancers to the state playoffs,” associate executive director Melissa Mertz said.

One theme of the day, in both the District 2 meeting and the Lackawanna Interscholastic Athletic Association meeting which took place later Tuesday, was the need to find schools and other venues willing to return to the past practice of hosting neutral site and multi-team events.

As the PIAA staff jumps around to various district meetings this week, it is trying to put out the word and collect information on willing hosts in order to assure it can return state tournaments to normal. After the entire 2020 spring season was wiped out, the 2020 fall and 2021 winter state sports championships were downsized and, in most cases, held at one of the participating team’s home gyms.

“We’d like your help,” Mertz told the member school representatives. “We’re going to need neutral sites – neutral sites that are going to host two, maybe even four when we have doubleheaders, communities or schools outside of their own teams.

“That will be imperative as we move forward, making we can have the full complement.”

Mertz said there has been positive feedback from other districts around the state, saying that neutral sites will be available. She said if that information changes, the PIAA would have to consider reverting to the district champions-only state brackets it used in the fall and winter to make tournaments more manageable.

Recent PIAA Board of Directors meetings have included discussions on the desire to get a complete season for spring athletes, if possible as the organization continues to manage public health issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think everyone on the Zoom can appreciate the hardships our spring athletes went through last year, losing a whole season,” Mertz said.

Mark Byers provided positive developments on plans for the PIAA Track and Field Championships, one of the organization’s largest events each school year with about 2,600 athletes participating at Shippensburg University.

For various logistical reasons, the meet will switch to Class 2A May 28 and Class 3A May 29, rather than the usual first day of primarily qualifying and second day of mainly finals, especially when it comes to events on the track. That limits the total number of athletes on the grounds each day and allows to maintain the same qualifying from districts as in the past.

Shippensburg University will be able to host 5,000 people at the stadium and surrounding grounds and is prepared to offer single-occupancy dormitories and meals for up to 750. Because of its distance from Shippensburg, District 2’s athletes will be offered that option.

Byers said approximately 1,300 participants per day will allow for two spectators per participant for a total of about 3,900, which would allow for all necessary coaches, officials and media while keeping the total on site to below 5,000.

Pat Gebhart reported that the PIAA continues to see a reduction in the number of available officials, an existing trend that likely has been exacerbated by COVID-19 concerns among potential or formerly active officials.

Spring playoff plans within District 2, much of which had been agreed to or announced earlier, were shared during the meeting.

Three members of the district committee will be leaving before the next school year.

Bill Schoen, the male officials’ representative, is being replaced by Jim Elliott following an election process among registered officials in the district. Jim Costello from Wilkes-Barre Area will step aside as school board representative after June 30. Bill King will also be leaving at that time, ending a 21-year run on the committee and making it necessary for another principal from an LIAA school to be elected to replace him.

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