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Breaking it down: Key points to know from PIAA's 26-page return-to-competition guidelines for fall sports
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Breaking it down: Key points to know from PIAA's 26-page return-to-competition guidelines for fall sports


On Wednesday shortly after its board of directors meeting, the PIAA released a board-approved set of return-to-competition guidelines for fall sports.

The 26-page document available to the public is a “shell” plan, according to executive director Dr. Bob Lombardi.

Fall sports are on schedule to begin Aug. 10 with football heat acclimation, with the remaining sports beginning preseason practices Aug. 17. The regular season begins with the typical staggered start from Aug. 20 to Sept. 4 for different sports, but school districts have the option this year to delay their seasons as late as Oct. 5.

Below are some of the main points worth highlighting from the guidelines — including the use of masks, guidance for officials, coaches and fans, and recommendations for each sport:

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Mask wearing continues

Players, coaches and spectators (if any are allowed) must wear masks unless outside and 6 feet apart maintaining social distancing. Any athlete currently practicing or in play during competition doesn’t need a mask. Exceptions are granted to those with medical exemptions as per state guidelines.

The football steering committee is also recommending face shields be worn by all football players. It is not mandatory, and no details about how they would be supplied were provided.

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Coaching guidelines

The PIAA recommends teams conduct practices in “pods,” which would keep the same group of kids together with no crossover of athletes from other pods. Coaches are asked to record all attendees at every practice in case there’s a need for contact tracing.

It’s also recommended coaches “limit game day squad sizes for social distancing purposes.”

Game day paperwork should be handled electronically whenever possible.

Fans and media

The PIAA will not allow fans at games until the state and Department of Education change current mandates. The PDE doesn’t allow more than 25 people in an indoor facility — like a high school gym — and no more than 250 people for outdoor sports.

If that is loosened and fans can attend, the PIAA included guidelines for spectators which anticipate limitations. “Nonessential visitors” should be limited. Social distancing must be maintained in seating areas, with fans not within the same household 6 feet apart. Guidelines recommend schools mark areas off.

Fans must also wear masks at all times. No fans are allowed on the field.

Media members are asked to coordinate with schools prior to games, and the number of media members may be limited depending on capacity restrictions. Media is also required to wear masks and maintain social distancing, even during interviews.


According to the guidelines, officials should communicate with schools to coordinate entrance and exits for games, and to set up separate parking areas.

Schools may ask officials to sign a liability waiver. It is not a PIAA requirement but up to individual school districts.

Officials can wear masks and gloves (it is not required), are encouraged to arrive to a facility already in uniform and there should be hand sanitizer readily available for officials to use frequently.

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Cross country

Schools are encouraged to limit team participants to 12 or fewer for meets involving four or fewer teams.

Staggered, wave or interval starts are encouraged, and schools should look at widening courses by 6 feet at the narrowest points. Corrals and FAT timing systems for larger meets are encouraged. No handshakes are allowed, and social distancing protocols need to be enacted for pre- and post-race ceremonies.

Field hockey

The PIAA encourages more bench space, no handshakes, ball individuals using gloves or extra balls placed around the field of play, and a designated space for players who are carded that is socially distant from the officials table. No pregame introduction lines are recommended, and players should be sent straight to their starting positions on the field.

Face coverings, gloves and goggles are allowed, but players should not share masks for penalty corners.


The team box on each sideline can be extended to both 10-yard lines for increased social distancing, and teams should reduce game rosters as much as possible. The ball should be sanitized throughout the game, and ball boys should remain socially distanced on the sideline.

The PIAA recommends teams promote the use of clear plastic face shields on helmets. Cloth face masks are also permitted. If a player removes their mouth guard or it is removed during play, it should be disinfected right away.

Intermissions between quarters can be extended a max of two minutes, as well as after every score. The pregame coin toss should include the official and one representative from each team. Handshakes are also banned before, during and after competition.

The PIAA recommends and team meeting between quarters or after the game be socially distanced and off the field of play as much as possible.

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Normal golf group sizes are permitted, but social distancing must be maintained. It is also recommended the number of golfers in a match be limited, start times be staggered at least 12 minutes for groups of three and 15 minutes for groups of four, and everyone tees off from the same starting hole.

Electronic scoring is permitted, and players are discouraged from exchanging scorecards.


As with football and field hockey, any ball boys or girls should be socially distanced and wear gloves. Additional balls can be placed around the field of play.

Teams bench areas may be expanded to increase social distancing.

There is to be no introduction line prior to games, and players should head immediately to their starting positions on the field. Any halftime, pre-game and post-game team meetings should be conducted off the field, and there are to be no post-game handshakes.

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“Although unlikely, it’s possible that a tennis ball can transmit the COVID-19 virus,” the guidelines say. For extra precaution, the PIAA encourages using 4-6 balls per match and numbering the balls with a marker to denote which ball belongs to which player or pair. That will make it easier for players to know when to send the ball back between points using a foot or racquet, another recommendation.

Use of hands is discouraged. The PIAA also encourages players don’t touch their face and use hand sanitizer throughout the match during breaks in play.


Teams are not to switch sides between sets, and bench areas can be expanded for social distancing purposes. Substitutions are encouraged close to the attack line, with 6 feet of distance between players and the official.

Players are welcome to wear a face mask or gloves.

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Water polo

Team benches should be placed on opposite sides of the pool. For social distancing, substitute players can be in the water behind the goal line if there is space, and coaches can be behind the goal line in the team area when the team is on defense.

Goal judges are optional for officials this year. And officials should wear masks. Teams can submit rosters in ways that reduce face-to-face interaction.

Email Jake Adams at or follow him on Twitter @jakeadams520

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