Palmerton votes 7-2 for fall sports season – Times News Online

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Published September 02. 2020 02:45PM

Student-athletes have been working out all summer. League schedules and start dates have been set. And on Tuesday, the last domino fell into place for fall sports in Palmerton Area School District as its board of directors voted 7-2 to allow the season to take place.

The moment all fall athletes have been waiting for came after nearly two hours of data presentations and discussion on both sides of the aisle.

“Our athletes, coaches and parents have done everything we have asked them to so far, and I think they deserve a chance to play,” Palmerton Athletic Director Kyle Porembo told the board during a workshop presentation before the vote.

Ultimately, Earl Paules, Tammy Recker, Brandon Mazepa, Kate Baumgardt, Doris Zellers, Barry Scherer and Sherry Haas voted in favor of the fall sports season, while Kathy Fallow and Audrey Larvey cast the no votes.

“Our job is to oversee an educational program that offers extracurricular activities,” Recker said in support of her vote. “The kids participating are doing so with the consent of their parents or guardians. If the parent is OK with them participating, I can’t play God to the people making those decisions.”

Palmerton’s first athletic event will be a golf match on Thursday. Cross-country, volleyball, field hockey and soccer season openers will follow, with football being the final sport to commence games on Sept. 25 against Catasauqua.

“We’ve had an 80% attendance rate this summer and that’s good in a nonpandemic year,” Palmerton varsity football coach Chris Walkowiak said. “It tells me the parents want their kids playing. With every delay these kids feel like they’ve been strung along. The carrot has been dangled and they’re never getting the carrot. I think we owe it to them to give it a go.”

Before her dissenting vote, Fallow said she would feel better if athletes in high-risk sports, as defined by health care providers, were attending virtual classes until the end of the season instead of coming to school in-person while competing.

“I have always been told that our number one priority must be the health and safety of all of our children and our number two priority must be the education of all of our children,” Fallow said. “Any decision we make needs to keep those priorities in mind. We are allowing a population participating in high-risk activities to come into school. I have a hard time with that.”

A survey put on the district’s website last week indicated 68.6% of the 306 parents, coaches, etc. who responded wanted fall sports to begin immediately. Porembo said of 5,623 COVID-19 screenings conducted since summer workouts began, Palmerton has had zero positive tests. In the Colonial League as a whole, around 39,000 screenings were conducted, of the 10 schools that responded to a survey, with three positive tests.

“Our athletes and our coaches have really taken everything seriously because honestly, they have no other choice,” Porembo said. “One positive test on a sports team could shut the whole thing down. I think our athletes, since they’ve been following the protocol all summer, will be the role models and leaders in school if they see someone not wearing their mask or doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Eight other Colonial League schools were proceeding with fall sports without a formal school board vote, Porembo said, when asked during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I think things are more safe with the athletes because they are being screened and tested more than anyone else,” Paules said. “We can’t stop living. The kids have to figure it out and work together. I have no problem with the athletes coming to school and I don’t want to restrict them from anything.”

As of now, no spectators will be allowed in the athletic events, but guidance from the state could change, Porembo said. The district is working on a way to stream events for parents and fans to watch.

Parents spoke Tuesday night of the mental health benefits of playing sports. Walkowiak also said he worried if the district nixed fall sports, that students would look to transfer so they could play somewhere else.

“We wouldn’t get them back,” he said. “Our health and safety plan is very good. It’s well thought out. All summer the kids have been coming early, wiping down bags, wearing masks and they haven’t complained one time. They have earned this opportunity.”

Fallow said though Tuesday’s vote was not unanimous, the board will be united in its support of the result.

“Every member of this board,” she said, “will support the decision.”

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