Canceled: Schools, coaches face tough choices in fight against COVID-19 – York Dispatch

Anticipation was high in the days leading up to Sept. 17, when Red Lion Area Senior High School was set to face off against Central York High School at a football game set on Hall of Fame night.

“We were looking forward to it,” said Red Lion athletic director Arnold Fritzius.

The weather was good. The field was impeccable. The players were pumped.

The game?

Canceled.

As Fritzius put it: “A confluence of medical issues” — paramount among them, COVID-19 — conspired against them.

Since the start of the football season, at least nine games have been canceled across York and Adams counties. In other high school sports, multiple games have been canceled as well.

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While games are being canceled on a more frequent basis compared to school closures, there is no set criteria local school districts have agreed on for when to cancel a game. 

“We’re all handling this a little differently,” Fritzius said. 

Red Lion had multiple health issues that would have made it unsafe to put students on the field for the Central York game, he said. At least four starting players were already out for the season due to injuries, and several more players had gotten injured the week before. 

Then, multiple students missed practices because they had to receive COVID-19 tests. Though several of those students’ tests were negative, Fritzius said, they still were out for a couple of days and did not log enough practice time to qualify for the game. 

The Red Lion game against Central York was one of the only Division I games to be canceled due to COVID-19. According to a York Dispatch report, a majority of the canceled football games have come from Division III, whose schools typically have smaller rosters and have a tougher time fielding a team when hit with health issues.

More: Another York-Adams football game becomes COVID casualty, pushing the 2021 total to seven

Douglas Bohannon, District 3 chairman for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, said each district has a different set of safety protocols that determines when they cancel a game. At Red Lion, Fritzius said they aren’t operating with a specific criteria but instead consulting with team doctors on when it is safe to hold games. 

“It’s whatever we feel is best for our students,” Fritzius said. 

Casey Pinto, public health expert and professor at Penn State University, said she doesn’t think it is safe to hold any high school athletic events at this point in the pandemic. However, she said, outdoor events pose a lower risk than indoor sports. 

“I realize that districts are deciding and the mental health of students and community is important too,” Pinto said. 

COVID-19 is spreading faster in York County schools than it was during the previous school year. Currently, local public schools have recorded nearly 1,500 cases, with no sign of the spread slowing down. At this rate, York County will surpass the 2020-21 school year’s total cases before the end of the first semester of the 2021-22 school year. 

Pinto said the biggest risk of athletic events is for unvaccinated individuals. About 90% of recent COVID-19 hospitalizations are among unvaccinated people, she said. According to the New York Times, York County’s overall vaccination rate is 53%. 

Though Pinto didn’t recommend specific criteria schools should follow for canceling games, she encouraged officials to put the health of the athletes first. 

“If there is exposures on the team, it should be a reasonable expectation to cancel,” she said. 

More: York County schools near 1,500 COVID-19 cases: Use the database

The Red Lion game against Central York was counted as a forfeit for Red Lion and marked as a loss on the team’s record. Bohannon said canceled games are counted as forfeits if the canceling team could play but chooses not to. 

Games are considered a no contest if a participating team is incapable of playing, likely because they haven’t logged enough practice hours, Bohannon said. No contest matches are removed from both teams’ records and can be made up in the future. 

Aside from football, Bohannon said, other sports have also been canceled recently. He said football gets more publicity because football games can’t be rescheduled, unlike games for other sports. 

Bohannon and Fritzius were confident that the cancellations wouldn’t affect the end of the season. Fritzius said there is a “camaraderie and trust” among athletic directors, and he doesn’t believe any of them would attempt to use canceled games to their advantage. 

“After last year, we’ve all become pretty resilient,” Fritzius said. 

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