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PIAA Championships

The place to be: How Cumberland Valley stepped up to host PIAA wrestling, swimming championships in a pandemic

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Sports and Covid 1 (copy)

Cumberland Valley High School hosted the PIAA girls volleyball championships in November, giving it a taste of hosting a state tournament event during a pandemic. CV is even busier this spring, hosting the swimming and diving state championships as well as the team wrestling state championships.

Editor's Note: Information was corrected in this story Thursday to update the reason why the Cumberland Valley School District scheduled an asynchronous day for the district Friday. The school district had already scheduled an asynchronous day Friday for the entire school district in anticipation of potential absences due to side effects/likely not enough substitutes due to a vaccine clinic held Thursday to distribute the second doses of COVID-19 vaccine to eligible teachers and staff.

This year the road to PIAA gold runs through Cumberland Valley.

Over three straight weekends, the state championships for diving, swimming and team wrestling all take place on CV’s sprawling campus in Silver Spring Township.

Conflicts precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic made the change necessary in both venues previously slated to host the events. Faced with the dilemma and needing a quick decision, the PIAA turned to Cumberland Valley’s athletic director Mike Craig to iron out the best solution for all involved.

“With our past practice of working with Cumberland Valley in other sports, and their willingness to host, we approached Mike first,” PIAA chief operating officer Mark Byers said. “Ultimately, we were able to conclude that they were able to host for both team wrestling and swimming and diving.”

Cumberland Valley has proven agreeable and adept at holding championship events in the past, whether it’s the PIAA girls volleyball championships (which it has hosted successfully since 2018 — including its first foray at pandemic championship hosting in November), or the numerous Mid-Penn and District 3 playoff contests in a variety of sports across all seasons.

“Not only are they well prepared in dealing with the size of their school community, but they are well attuned to the requirements of running championship events,” Byers said. “They not only do a fantastic job taking care of their own students, but those that are coming from other schools throughout the course of the season.”

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Craig declined comment to The Sentinel for this story.

In team wrestling, a PIAA board decision shifted the championships later in the calendar year to give schools more time to complete their regular season.

That change in the overall timetable caused further scheduling headaches, forcing the switch from the usual home at the Giant Center in Hershey to Cumberland Valley’s Eagle Dome for semifinals, finals and consolation finals March 27.

“The board took actions to move team championships after individual championships,” Byers said. “That schedule put us in conflict with the basketball championships that the Giant Center was already scheduled to host.”

Bucknell University became impractical as a site for the swimming and diving championships when it canceled spring break — typically the week the state swimming and diving championships are held — after delaying the start of in-person classes for the semester. That revision guaranteed the school’s entire student body would be on campus during the scheduled days of the championships.

Additionally, all of Bucknell’s teams for the fall, winter and spring sports season returned to action in early February, limiting the areas the PIAA could use to stage the entire event.

“We worked closely with the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau of Lewisburg, and they were very understanding of the predicament we were in having to move out of Bucknell,” PIAA associate executive director Melissa Mertz said. “They certainly would have loved for us to be there, but they were very understanding and appreciative that we kept them in the loop of our decision-making.”

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Cumberland Valley is already one-third through its itinerary, with the diving championships taking place this past Saturday. District 3 was well represented as Susquehannock’s Max Pflieger finished second in boys Class 2A, and Northeastern had Abby O’Leary and Stephen Barlett both finish on the podium in Class 3A results.

“Hosting the overall event went really well,” Cumberland Valley swim coach Michael Gobrecht said. “We only had eight divers and eight coaches in there at any one time. The fun part was it was the first time we had actual spectators in the gallery. Because we had such a low number of participants, PIAA could sell tickets to up to 20 spectators.”

Swimming takes center stage at the CV natatorium this weekend. For Cumberland Valley, it will be the culmination of what they’ve learned hosting the Mid-Penn and District 3 championships this year during a pandemic, two events Gobrecht and crew are accustomed to hosting.

“That gave us a trial run,” Gobrecht noted. “Previously, at any championship event, you’d have 400 kids on the pool deck and another 400 spectators in the gallery. But now, the swimmers needed to be in a gymnasium 100 feet away. We had to put together a plan to make sure swimmers had ample opportunity to warm-up, race and then warm-down. The Mid-Penn meet allowed us to come up with that process. Then the district meet allowed us to perfect some things going into this weekend.”

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One additional wrinkle is the Class 2A swimming championships begin Friday during a typical school day, with the girls 200 medley relay kicking off the heats at 10:45 a.m.

But the school district had already scheduled an asynchronous day Friday for the entire school district in anticipation of potential absences due to side effects and likely not enough substitutes due to a vaccine clinic held Thursday to distribute the second doses of COVID-19 vaccine to eligible teachers and staff.

“Our facilities people at Cumberland Valley are top-notch,” Gobrecht said. “Credit has to go to them for putting on all these events and making sure it’s safe and clean. Had we not had them, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”


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