The Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference announced that its 13 member schools will postpone the start of winter sports practices and games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
LHAC Executive Director Scott Close of Somerset Area High School released a statement on Wednesday:
“In collaboration with the leaders of each school, the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference has decided to postpone the start of the winter season. The health and well-being of our student-athletes are the main concerns of the conference.
“With the current local health conditions, many schools have been forced to operate virtually. It is the belief of the conference that students need to be back in the classroom before they can take to the athletic fields. Practices for the winter season may begin on Dec. 14. Contests for the LHAC will tentatively begin on Jan. 8 (Jan. 7 in wrestling).
“This will allow schools to stay in-house for practices during the holiday travel seasons and only begin to play interscholastically upon returning from the Christmas break.”
The LHAC had a regularly scheduled meeting set for Wednesday afternoon. The PIAA Board of Directors also had a regularly scheduled Zoom meeting scheduled for Wednesday and reaffirmed that winter sports seasons throughout the state may start on time on Friday.
The PIAA also addressed a new mask mandate issued Tuesday by Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine and Gov. Tom Wolf's administration stating masks must be worn outdoors and indoors, even in sporting events. The board of directors passed a motion instructing schools to consult with their respective solicitors regarding whether their athletes have to wear masks while playing.
Close said the LHAC boys and girls basketball varsity and junior high conference schedule will include 12 games as each team will play each opponent once. Basketball teams will be permitted to play nonconference opponents or face a LHAC opponent a second time, though the game won't count in the conference standings, Close said.
Wrestling teams will have a nine-match schedule beginning on Jan. 7 with matches each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday through Jan. 26, Close said.
In Wednesday's report from the state Department of Health, Cambria County added a record 171 new virus cases, Somerset had 82 new cases and Bedford County added 44. Those were among a record 6,000 new positive cases statewide, continuing a spike in recent weeks.
PIAA-sanctioned winter sports in the LHAC include boys and girls basketball and wrestling. Other winter sports include swimming and diving, rifle and hockey, though those don't fall under the LHAC banner.
"For Somerset, we will adhere to it for all winter sports," said Close, the Somerset director of athletics. "I don't want to speak for all other LHAC schools, but I would think that would be the case for them also.
"Each school will have to make that determination."
Member schools in the conference for winter sports are: Bedford; Bishop Carroll Catholic; Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic; Bishop McCort Catholic; Cambria Heights; Central Cambria; Chestnut Ridge; Forest Hills; Greater Johnstown; Penn Cambria; Richland; Somerset; and Westmont Hilltop.