Soccer, cross-country and golf are a go.

Football?

Not so fast.

That was the word Thursday from St. Joseph’s Prep and La Salle, two Philadelphia Catholic League athletic powerhouses that have been working on plans to continue with fall sports since the rest of the league suspended competition on Aug. 24 because of COVID-19 concerns.

In a statement, St. Joseph’s Prep and La Salle announced plans to compete this fall in soccer, cross-country and golf along with fellow Philadelphia Catholic League member Devon Prep and independent Holy Ghost Prep. The announcement from the four schools said, “Both La Salle and St. Joe’s are also strongly committed to finding opportunities to play football this fall.”

The schools are expected to begin play in golf by next week with competition in soccer and cross-country not far behind.

“While we respect the decision of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, we believe that we can offer athletic opportunities for our student-athletes in a safe, controlled manner,” St. Joseph’s Prep athletic director Dan DiBernardinis said. “Utilizing each schools’ Return to Play protocols, which were approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Department of Health and endorsed by the PIAA, we feel strongly that a fall sports season can be done safely.”

Brother James Butler, La Salle’s president, expressed his support for the decision.

“The four independent Catholic secondary schools for young men belonging to the PIAA have a long relationship with each other, a friendly rivalry that makes each school better and more competitive,” Butler said.

Head Coach Tim Roken and St. Joseph's Prep football players celebrate a win over rival La Salle on Sept. 28, 2019.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Head Coach Tim Roken and St. Joseph's Prep football players celebrate a win over rival La Salle on Sept. 28, 2019.

The fate of the St. Joseph’s Prep football season was complicated this week by new guidance from the Philadelphia Department of Health. On Tuesday, the city prohibited competition in “high-risk contact sports” such as football, soccer, rugby and indoor basketball. Sports such as cross-country, golf and crew were deemed safe by the department led by Philadelphia health director Thomas Farley.

St. Joseph’s Prep is located at 17th and Girard in North Philadelphia. The Hawks’ soccer team will play its games outside the city while practices within city limits will be skill-oriented with no contact, DiBernardinis said.

The football team likely can follow those rules on two days during an average week, with a day dedicated to film study and another to a non-contact, walk-through session. But the Hawks likely would need to practice outside the city on two other days during an average week to allow for contact.

Securing a practice site outside the city and arranging for travel are logistical complications that need to be worked out before the Hawks can commit to moving forward with football, according to two sources close to the program.

La Salle, which is located in Wyndmoor in Montgomery County, does not fall under the health guidance from the city of Philadelphia.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Aug. 24 that the 17 area high schools under its jurisdiction would not be competing in fall sports, effectively shutting down the Philadelphia Catholic League.

St. Joseph’s Prep, La Salle and Devon Prep are members of the Philadelphia Catholic League but do not operate under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, so those schools were free to make their own plans with regard to fall sports. Holy Ghost is operating as an independent this school year so a loose affiliation between the four schools should be beneficial in terms of scheduling and facility availability.

“Athletics play an important part in the lives of our student-athletes, not only from a physical standpoint but from a social and emotional perspective as well,” Devon Prep athletic director Jason Fisher said.

St. Joseph’s Prep and La Salle are believed to be trying to arrange for an abbreviated football season of perhaps five or six games. It is unclear whether the PIAA will sponsor district and state playoffs in football and other sports this fall. St. Joseph’s Prep has won the last two PIAA Class 6A state titles in football, and three of the last four.

Duke recruit Sahmir Hagans (left) is a top returning player for the St. Joseph's Prep football team.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Duke recruit Sahmir Hagans (left) is a top returning player for the St. Joseph's Prep football team.

The Hawks this season are projected to have one of the strongest squads in school history, led by seniors such as Ohio State-bound quarterback Kyle McCord, Clemson-bound Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Ohio State-bound wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., Temple-bound wide receiver Malik Cooper and Duke-bound wide receiver Sahmir Hagans, among many others.

La Salle junior running back Samuel Brown (left) is one of the state's top recruits in the class of 2022.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
La Salle junior running back Samuel Brown (left) is one of the state's top recruits in the class of 2022.

La Salle also is projected as a strong team led by senior lineman Ryan Wills as well as junior standouts such as linebacker Abdul Carter and running back Sam Brown, both of whom have scholarship offers from Penn State among other top programs.