The Cheltenham school district will shut down fall sports at Thursday night’s board of education meeting because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The decision, which postpones the season for the high school’s reigning District 1, Class 5A football champions, was announced by Cheltenham schools superintendent Dr. Wagner Marseille in a letter to staff and families on Thursday morning.

“While athletics is an extension of our students’ curricular experience, allowing fall sports to move forward would be contradictory to our current stance of opening schools in a virtual environment,” Marseille wrote. “I am not confident in our ability to mitigate the exposure and transmission of COVID-19 during interscholastic competition.

“With the health and safety of everyone involved at stake, I’m not willing to take that risk. With that, I will announce the suspension of all CDS fall activities, practices and competitions at Thursday evening’s meeting.”

Cheltenham becomes the third Southeastern Pennsylvania high school to announce plans to suspend fall sports, along with Norristown and Pottstown. In addition, the Philadelphia Public League, Friends Schools League and Del Val League have postponed fall sports.

Cheltenham’s football team set a school record with 14 wins in 2019, capturing the program’s first District 1 title and advancing to the PIAA Class 5A championship game.

Cheltenham football coach Ryan Nase directing his players at practice on Dec. 4, in preparation for the PIAA Class 5A state final against Archbishop Wood.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Cheltenham football coach Ryan Nase directing his players at practice on Dec. 4, in preparation for the PIAA Class 5A state final against Archbishop Wood.

“We’re obviously very disappointed that we will not get the chance to compete in 2020,” Cheltenham football coach Ryan Nase said. “It’s not about defending a league or district title. It’s losing the ability to see the positive impact football has had on our student athletes.

“Many of them have learned how to work harder on the field and in the classroom than they ever thought possible. I see the air deflate from them every time not playing is discussed. I feel especially terrible for our seniors. Many of them just lost the last opportunity to play football.

“My advice to them was to keep grinding, dominate the classroom and continue to take lessons they’ve learned from football and apply it to life. We’ve been knocked down before but I’ve never seen Cheltenham Panthers stay down, so there’s no reason to start now.”