Pa. high school students and parents plead “Let us play” in the fall

Written by on August 21, 2020

Pa. high school students and parents plead “Let us play” in the fall

By Sam Dunklau, WITF

August 21, 2020

High school senior and cheerleader Ashlynn O’Neill, flanked by her parents, siblings and other supporters, delivers a speech advocating for a fall sports season at the Pennsylvania state capitol building on Aug. 20. Photo |Sam Dunklau / WITF

High school students and their parents rallied at the Pennsylvania Capitol building Thursday, calling on state and local leaders to let fall sports go ahead.

A majority of the dozens of demonstrators were wearing face masks and socially distancing as they carried signs that all called for the same thing: to let fall semester sporting events go on with appropriate precautions taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Senior Ashlynn O’Neill, a cheerleader at York Catholic High School, is one of many athletes who may not be able to compete this semester. She told the crowd she’s hanging up her uniform after high school, unlike many of her friends who intend to go on to play a sport in college.

O’Neill said the commonwealth’s decision-makers, from local school boards on up to Gov. Tom Wolf, should put themselves in her shoes.

“How would you feel if you didn’t get to play?” she asked. “How would you feel if something you had been working towards pretty much your whole life was suddenly taken from you in your final year?”

Gov. Wolf’s administration says individual school districts still have the final say on the fall season, but the governor and his top health adviser are recommending that organized school sports be avoided entirely for the time being.

“As the school year approaches, we will continue to work with schools to prepare. We want to do everything we can to create a safe environment for children to return to school. Minimizing our exposure to COVID-19 is paramount,” Wolf spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger said in an email.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, meanwhile, recently imposed a two-week delay on the beginning of fall sports.

It scheduled a meeting for Friday to decide whether sports will go forward after that delay.

Kristen Wassel was among the parents who rallied in Harrisburg, hoping the PIAA allows the fall season to move forward. She said she believes her son, who plays football, can participate while staying safe.

“Even if they do get it, it’s going to be a mild infection,” Wassel said, repeating the belief that COVID-19 infections pose little threat to children and teens.“I’m absolutely willing to take that risk for my son. He’s much happier [and] healthier out playing football with his peers than sitting at home quarantined.”

Public health experts have said that even if coronavirus is less harmful to young people, it could spread from children and teens to adults at home, including people who are more vulnerable to serious illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “children are still at risk of developing severe illness and complications from COVID-19.”

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R, Centre/Huntingdon/Juniata/Mifflin counties) spoke with the parents and student athletes at the rally, as did his two high-school aged children.

“My wife and I have researched this. We’ve looked into this. We’re comfortable with the protocols. We are comfortable to let our children play.”

“Let this be a parent-student decision, not a decision made in this building behind us,” Corman said pointing to the capitol building.

State Sen. Mike Regan (R, Cumberland/York counties) said he’s concerned about the physical and mental toll pandemic-related restrictions have wrought upon kids in the commonwealth.

“Kids are suffering from depression…and part of that is because they’re not able to do their routine. They’re not able to go to practice or be around their friends.”

“We need to protect these kids by letting them play,” Regan said to cheers and chants.

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