High school COVID restrictions differ across county lines

On March 12, 2020, Glenn Mallon and the Springfield High School girls basketball team were sitting in their chartered bus when their phones collectively buzzed.

Athletic directors at Springfield High School, Pope John Paul II High School and Lansdale Catholic High School have dealt with their own unique challenges during the COVID pandemic.

Story by Brooklyn Vaughan

On March 12, 2020, Glenn Mallon and the Springfield High School girls basketball team were sitting in their chartered bus when their phones collectively buzzed.

Twitter notifications and texts from relatives and friends led to a looming conversation throughout the cabin about breaking news regarding the COVID-19 outbreak.

Then, the radio in the bus announced the first round of many cancellations in the sports world to come.

For the Springfield girls’ basketball team, their run came to an end earlier that day after losing their quarterfinal matchup in the state championship tournament. While it was thought at the time that he would have more spring sports continuing to play throughout the rest of the spring, Springfield Athletic Director Glenn Mallon recalled the oddest drive home. 

“The NBA cancelled their season, and then college basketball teams cancelled their seasons,” he said. “And then the next day when we get back to school, it just seems like the world is ending.”

The following months brought about a total cease of high school athletics. Even as the summer progressed, it was widely doubted across the Philadelphia region that there would even be a competitive season for fall sports. With coherence of the guidelines from the Chester County Health Department — because Delaware County is without its own — the Central League was able to rally together “voluntary workouts” during the summer in anticipation of competing in the near future. 

Without much surprise to Mallon and his fellow athletic directors, the students and parents were relieved to get back to some type of normalcy. 

“They were just so happy to have something to do,” he said. “There were 30 girls showing up to play tennis for us in July. We’ve never had that many kids interested in the sport.”

The final week of August brought much different news to the 17 schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, who were told in a letter that they would be opting out of interscholastic competition for the fall 2020 season. This created confusing circumstances for Pope John Paul II High School in Royersford, whose Montgomery County guidelines were more lenient than their league counterparts within the city of Philadelphia. 

Joseph Trainer, the schools’ athletic director, was frustrated but understanding when it came to the initial announcement. 

“We’re in a unique situation because even though we play in the PAC, we’re also a part of the Catholic Archdiocese and adhere to them. So navigating that wasn’t easy,” he said. He recalled the community efforts that eventually were enough to convince the administration to carry on with fall sports afterall.

“At the end of the day, people realized that athletics really are a valuable part of the high school experience,” Trainer added. 

Throughout this past year, COVID-19 protocols and restrictions have continued to vary across Pennsylvania county lines, making it difficult for high school athletic conferences to schedule out-of-league play. That, along with the effort to keep the virus confined as much as possible, resulted in a majority of sports to be played on a strictly in-conference schedule — after they were permitted to resume action at all, that is. 

With the outdoor component of fall and spring sports, combined with the increased ability to properly social distance, some schools have been able to justify scheduling a few non-conference games.

At Montgomery County’s Lansdale Catholic High School, fall sports were played out of league, and it is anticipated that spring sports will have nonconference matchups as well. The Crusaders’ Athletic Director, Mark Princehorn, said this was made possible by “the outside variable, and the ability of social distancing, and being able to play sports outside of the confines of a gym.” 

Winter sports were a different story, though, as they were restricted to a league-only schedule. This initially raised concern over the lack of diversity in certain schedules, but Princehorn assures his student athletes “didn’t get slighted on games because the PCL is so big,” he said. 

“With 15 teams,” he added, “they were still able to compete on a wide level.”

As spring sports begin to resume throughout the region and look much different than years past, most high school athletic departments are relieved that their student athletes are returning to some sense of normalcy and doing so safely, most importantly.

There have been countless obstacles for student-athletes, their families and administrators over the past year, but it was all necessary. 

“We all made the right decision,” Princehorn said. 

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