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Philadelphia Catholic League moves forward with fall sports without Father Judge and West Catholic

Under Philadelphia health department guidelines, schools won't be allowed to stage football or soccer games within city limits or hold practices with contact.

Archbishop Ryan quarterback Jahlil Sanders lunges forward for a gain against Archbishop Carroll during a Philadelphia Catholic League Class 5A football quarterfinal  in 2017. Both of those schools will move forward with football this fall after a delay created by the coronavirus outbreak.
Archbishop Ryan quarterback Jahlil Sanders lunges forward for a gain against Archbishop Carroll during a Philadelphia Catholic League Class 5A football quarterfinal in 2017. Both of those schools will move forward with football this fall after a delay created by the coronavirus outbreak.Read moreLOU RABITO / Staff

The Philadelphia Catholic League on Thursday firmed up plans for an abbreviated fall sports season that won’t include football or soccer games – or even contact practices in those sports – within the city limits.

It also won’t include Father Judge and West Catholic as both schools opted out of competition with an intention to stage sports in the spring.

“We just felt logistically it was going to be too difficult,” Father Judge athletic director Jake Serfass said of competing this fall in sports such as football and soccer.

Serfass, who also is the league’s chair, said most of the rest of the PCL intends to play games in the next few weeks despite the complications created for schools within the city by restrictions issued last month by the Philadelphia department of health.

That guidance prohibits football or soccer games in Philadelphia as well as practices in those sports that involve contact. That will force schools such as St. Joseph’s Prep, Roman Catholic, Archbishop Ryan and Neumann Goretti to find sites outside the city for football and soccer games, and practices that would involve more than non-contact, skills-and-drills sessions.

Roman Catholic athletic director Matt Griffin said his school’s football and soccer teams would focus on non-contact skill work, conditioning and weight training during the week, and use the fields of schools outside the city for practices with contact as well as games on the weekend.

St. Joseph’s Prep, Archbishop Ryan, and Neumann Goretti are expected to employ similar scenarios, with PCL schools outside the city offering their facilities for use on the weekends. The same would apply to schools within the city that sponsor girls’ soccer and field hockey, according to Serfass.

“We’re going to do the best we can,” Griffin said. “That’s the idea here, to try to provide these kids with something.”

Griffin said the Roman Catholic administration felt that waiting until the spring to stage fall sports would not be fair to seniors.

“We felt like the spring would be too late for them,” Griffin said. “Plus, we have a lot of multi-sport athletes, and we didn’t want to put these kids in a position where they had to choose football or lacrosse, or football or baseball.”

The PCL moved forward with plans for a shortened season six days after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia last Friday reversed an Aug. 24 decision to order its 17 high schools to opt out of interscholastic competition in the fall because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Football games are expected to start the weekend of Oct. 16-17, with games between teams of the same classification given the “top priority,” according to Serfass.

St. Joseph’s Prep, La Salle, Roman Catholic, and Archbishop Wood will play each other in football as they are all PIAA Class 6A teams. Archbishop Wood is the reigning Class 5A state champion, but the Vikings were bumped to 6A this year.

La Salle, a PCL member that is not under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, began its football season with a 35-27 win over Manheim Township on Sept. 18. The Explorer are set to play again Friday night against Delaware Valley High.

St. Joseph’s Prep, an independent private school like La Salle, is hoping to open its football season the weekend of Oct. 9-10.

Bonner-Prendergast, Archbishop Ryan, and Cardinal O’Hara are classified in 4A, while Neumann Goretti, Archbishop Carroll, and Lansdale Catholic are 3A. Bishop McDevitt and Conwell-Egan are 2A schools.

Serfass noted that, while the PIAA has not finalized the district or state playoff system, the PCL team with the best record in each classification would automatically advance to the state tournament as the District 12 champion since the Philadelphia Public League has opted out of fall sports.

The state finals in football are set for Nov. 27-28 at HersheyPark Stadium. Teams that opt out of the state playoffs or are eliminated will be allowed to schedule games through Nov. 28 provided they don’t exceed the maximum number of regular-season games allowed.

Some schools plan to stage some fall sports in the spring. That would include Father Judge and West Catholic in football, Father Judge and Neumann Goretti in boys' soccer, Bishop McDevitt, Hallahan, Little Flower, Neumann Goretti and St. Hubert’s in girls' soccer and Little Flower and St. Hubert’s in field hockey.

Serfass said Father Judge recently returned to in-person learning with a cohort system, and that there was a feeling among administrators that the introduction of interscholastic competition – especially given the logistical challenges created by the restrictions imposed by the Philadelphia health department – could jeopardize progress made in mitigating the effects of the coronavirus.

“We represent the entire Father Judge community,” Serfass said. “We’re an educational institution first, and as much as we know extracurricular activities are important, we felt like we had to put safety first.”