The PIAA logo on the scoreboard at the Giant Center.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association's board of directors approved guidelines for a return to competition for the spring 2021 season on Wednesday.

General guidelines and guidelines for schools, athletes, coaches, umpires and parents retain many aspects of rules from the winter, including self-health screenings, temperature checks, wearing of facial coverings, frequent handwashing and sanitization of frequently touched surfaces. In some sports, schools may have to extend benches into bleachers or extend lines on fields to provide enough space for students to keep six feet apart.

Athletes in all sports will be expected to wear a face mask during play except in lacrosse or if certain individuals meet exceptions to the state's mask-wearing order. Pre- and post-game handshakes are not allowed and pregame meetings include limits to the number of participants and social distancing rules.

The PIAA recommends coaches use pods for practicing in-season, so groups of same students can train and practice together, limiting potential exposure to an entire team.

In team-specific rules, baseball and softball pitchers are required to not wear masks that match the color of balls — optic yellow for softball and no light colors for baseball. Players and coaches are also banned from the usual chewing gum, seeds and spitting. Umpires will stay behind the catcher but must wear a face covering. Softball players may not wear plastic face shields unless they are integrated into their helmets.

As mentioned, lacrosse players will not have to wear masks, following the same logic as football, because wearing a mask along with a mouthguard and helmet "would likely create a medical issue for the athlete whether the athlete is a professional or youth player even if a previous medical issue was not present," the PIAA wrote in its guidance. "For example, the CDC says that 'wearing a mask with these types of protective equipment is not safe if it makes it hard to breathe.'"

Schools will also separate the substitution box, giving each team its own side. Players serving a penalty will sit in the back of the team's substitution box to maintain social distancing.

Faceoffs will introduce some extra distancing measures. Players will stand six feet away as the official places the ball. After the official steps back and says "down," players will move into position. Per the guidelines, the official says "set" and is then expected to blow the whistle quickly and the ball is expected to be put into play by the players quickly. After goals, goalies are instructed to roll or throw the ball to officials.

The tennis rules ask doubles partners to coordinate to maintain as much social distancing as possible and pre- and post-game handshakes can be replaced with racquet taps.

"While there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted by touching tennis balls, sanitary precautions, such as hand-washing, should still be utilized," the PIAA said in its instructions.

Shot and discus throwers are asked to provide their own implements. If they are unable, the implements will be sanitized between uses. For races, blocks will be disinfected after each heat and race. Middle distance and distance races are considered moderate risk activities so the PIAA recommends competitors run in alleys.

Gloves are usually not permitted during relay events, but the ban will be lifted for the 2021 season. Schools can bring their own batons and batons should be sanitized between races.

The big change for volleyball teams is not switching sides or benches between sets. The home team will pick its bench side prior to the start of the match. Gloves will be allowed for any athletes wishing to wear them during the competition.

The complete guidance can be found at https://www.piaa.org/assets/web/documents/Return_to_Competition_Spring_Final.pdf.

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