PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The Philadelphia Public League has suspended all interscholastic athletic competition until January 1, 2021 amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The suspension includes the entire School District of Philadelphia.
James Lynch, the school district's athletic director, announced the decision in an email sent to athletic directors at schools across the city.
The league said this decision is in accordance with the recommendation by Gov. Tom Wolf's administration that school sports be delayed until the new year.
However, a statement from the league left the door open to revisit the decision if the pandemic situation changes.
"If guidelines released by the Governor's office change, or are updated in a way that would allow programming to resume, we reserve the right to revisit our decision and provide further guidance on a safe return to play," the statement read.
The PPL Encompasses all 50 of Philadelphia's public schools and 27 of its charter schools. PPL President Jimmy Lynch, who also serves as executive director of athletics for the School District of Philadelphia, says the league assembled a board that has been meeting since mid-June to determine if there was a safe way to move forward with sports.
"It was a unanimous support to go with the governor's decision to suspend all fall sport seasons because it would not be in the best interest to support the health and safety for our kids," said Lynch.
Lynch says concerns ranged from crowds at games to transportation and social distancing among players.
The Philadelphia Catholic League is moving forward with a plan to continue fall sports on a delayed schedule. But the league will take a two week pause as it awaits a decision from the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association as to whether the organization will recommend that fall sports be suspended until 2021. If the PIAA does recommend a suspension, the president of the Philadelphia Catholic League says they will likely postpone fall sports until next year.
Regina Johnson, athletic director at Martin Luther King High School, is also the field hockey coordinator for PPL. She says, the organization will work to keep student athletes engaged through a virtual program. That program has already gotten a response from professional athletic organizations and programs eager to work with students whose seasons have been sidelined.
"My goal is to keep the kids engaged and focused so that when we are able to return to play, they're ready to go," said Johnson.
Lynch says it's possible that fall sports could be played in the spring, depending on the situation with COVID-19 and recommendations from the PIAA. In the meantime, student athletes who were counting on a fall season will have to wait. It's an agonizing wait for some of the 15 seniors on the football team for Frankford High School.
"For many kids at Frankford (football) is their way out of the neighborhood," said Coach Bill Systma who lost a 15-year-old player last month to gun violence.
"The number one goal is to go to college and get a scholarship," he said.
The PPL is working on a plan that may help with that. The virtual program that's still being created will included keeping student athletes up-to-date on NCAA eligibility rules and helping them do things like create highlight reels to send to college recruiters.
"We have seniors who were hoping to get scouted or recruited, we are going to be working with them in a virtual format," said Lynch.
Sytsma says that some of his players were "devastated" to hear the news that fall sports have been suspended even though he and other coaches have been preparing them for that possibility. He says he understands the PPL's decision.
"I don't question any of that," he said. "They are doing what they think is right."
"In accordance with Governor Wolf's recommendations that were made on August 6th, the Philadelphia Public League will be suspending all interscholastic athletic programming through January 1, 2021. If guidelines released by the Governor's office change, or are updated in a way that would allow programming to resume, we reserve the right to revisit our decision and provide further guidance on a safe return to play.
Our focus in the immediate future will be on developing a robust virtual program this fall to engage our student-athletes in a meaningful way as it pertains to NCAA Eligibility, sport leadership programming, post-secondary readiness, and health and wellness programming, in addition to creating a plan to provide individualized skill building and fitness workouts when permitted to resume safely.
We recognize the important role that interscholastic athletics play both on and off the field, and in the lives of our student-athletes, coaches and our school communities, but it is the health safety of those groups and their families that are paramount to our district.
We will continue working with the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association in an effort to develop alternative schedules to provide a safe and healthy return to play for all our sports, when recommended to do so by the Governor's office. The Philadelphia Public League is committed to work to ensure all of our student- athletes have the opportunity to participate in their chosen sport."
WOLF RECOMMENDS DELAYING FALL SPORTS
Wolf's recommendation to delay fall sports until 2021 came last week.
"We ought to do everything we can to defeat that virus. So any time we get together for any reason, that's a problem, because it makes it easier for that virus to spread. So the guidance from us, recommendation, is that we don't do any sports until January first," Wolf said on Thursday.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association met on Friday and decided to suspend mandatory activities until after it's next meeting on August 21. Voluntary activities may continue.
The PIAA said it believes a fall sports season can be conducted safely.
"PIAA remains committed to providing a season for each of the sports during the 2020-2021 school year," the association said in a statement.