In a perfect, pandemic-less world, Jerry Rullo would be studying offenses, filling holes on running plays, and dropping into coverage or rushing the passer when opponents take to the air.
He wouldn’t be looking up coronavirus infection rates. He wouldn’t be analyzing the approach of college leagues that have decided to play football despite COVID-19 concerns. He wouldn’t be rallying fellow athletes from the Inter-Academic League to urge administrators to change their decision to suspend fall sports.
“I have so much respect for what they do,” Rullo, a junior linebacker for the Penn Charter football team, said of Inter-Ac League officials. “I know they have our best interests at heart.”
Rullo has been compelled not just to speak his mind but to take concrete action. He has formed a Coalition of Inter-Academic Football Players, with student representatives from each of the six schools in the league that sponsor football teams.
He has submitted a four-page proposal to the heads of school and athletic directors of those six schools, encouraging a course change in guidance, and a kickoff to the football season on Oct. 17.
“In full unanimity, the Coalition of Inter-Academic Football Players proposes that if high school football is not shown to cause outbreaks of COVID-19 in the state of Pennsylvania which necessitate the PIAA to discontinue fall sports, then the Inter-Academic League will officially re-evaluate its current decision on the fall football season by Thursday, October 1, 2020 and consider a game restart date no later than: Saturday, October 17, 2020,” the proposal concludes.
Rullo, who lives in Havertown, said he has received positive feedback from several administrators. One athletic director in the Inter-Ac League, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that he emailed “Well done,” back to Rullo.
The decision on whether to play sports this fall will be made by the Inter-Ac League’s heads of schools. The current focus of most heads of schools, according to people close to the league, is the process of transitioning from remote learning to in-person instruction or a hybrid model.
Athletic directors in the Inter-Ac league have presented the heads of schools with several scenarios for sports since the league announced Aug. 26 that it was suspending competition because of the coronavirus outbreak.
One of those scenarios is believed to track closely with what Rullo and his coalition have proposed, a return to competition in most fall sports by the middle of October through Thanksgiving weekend in late November.
Football games would involve league-only play, with the six Inter-Ac League teams that sponsor the sport playing each other over five weekends.
“I think we could do it, and I’m very encouraged that there seems to be a positive reaction,” Rullo said.
Rullo, the grandson of the late Generoso Charles “Jerry” Rullo, a member of the Philadelphia Warriors' 1947 NBA championship team, said he was moved to take action soon after the Inter-Ac League decided to suspend play.
“I was sitting home one night, realizing how much I missed football, and I decided to put thoughts into words,” Rullo said. “I shared some of the things I had written with my peers. Then we shared it with some guys we knew at other schools.”
Rullo said he was pleasantly surprised by the reaction from around the league. The coalition includes a total of 20 football players – five from Penn Charter and three each from Episcopal Academy, Germantown Academy, Haverford School, Malvern Prep, and Springside Chestnut Hill.
“I only knew them from playing against them as rivals,” Rullo said. “It was funny how we were all thinking the same thing.”
The push by Inter-Ac League athletes to take the field comes as other leagues have reversed course, as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which oversees most of the Philadelphia Catholic League, as well the Ches-Mont League, and Central League have announced plans in recent days to play sports this fall.
Those organizations, like the Inter-Ac League, had all announced in late August that sports would be suspended because of COVID-19 concerns.
“We’re seeing most of the schools in Pennsylvania are playing,” Rullo said. “Many of the schools in the Philadelphia area are starting to play. We believe this can be done and it can be done safely.”