by Paul Kenned

The Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Association, one of the largest youth soccer organizations in the country, has decided to go ahead with fall activities after its board voted on Thursday evening to sanction activities, including team training, scrimmages and competitions, despite Governor Tom Wolf's recommendation that all youth sports (pre-kindergarten through 12th grade) be postponed through the end of the year.

A release from Wolf's office on behalf of Pennsylvania's Department of Health and Department of Education stated that “this is a strong recommendation and not an order or mandate." It covered competitions, intramural play and scrimmages but did not apply to pro or college sports.

Established in 1972, EPYSA stated it had complied with all directives from federal, state and soccer authorities to proceed toward the restarting of soccer activities with allowances for camps and guided stages of restarting: "We believe our community has carefully followed state guidance and has shown great care and respect for the children we serve as well as the parents, coaches, referees and other volunteers that make up our association."

EPYSA added that it will respect the decision of anyone who is uncomfortable and decides to sit out the fall season and it will comply with any order Governor Wolf issues for a postponement or suspension of play.

"Until such a time," it said, "we must continue practicing the necessary mitigation strategies of wearing a mask, social distancing and minimizing spectators and so forth. We also share with many of you, that the aspects of physical activity and mental health for our children are quite important, and that their participation in sport can be a positive contribution to their well-being."

EPYSA: 2020-21 Season Advisory

Seven Eastern Pennsylvania clubs -- FC Europa, Philadelphia Ukrainian Nationals, PA Dominion, Lehigh Valley United, PSC Coppa, Keystone FC and HMMS Eagle FC -- had teams qualify for U.S. Youth Soccer's restructured National League playoffs in 2020-21.

According to U.S. Youth Soccer registration figures, Eastern Pennsylvania had 120,552 registered players in fiscal year 2018-19, ranking sixth in the country behind Cal South, Massachusetts, North Texas, Virginia and Cal North.

In registration figures U.S. Youth Soccer updated in early May, Eastern Pennsylvania was down 22 percent year over year for fiscal year 2019-20, but that was the second lowest decline of the 14 Region I state associations that had reported 2019-20 registration figures.

On Friday, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs high school sports in Pennsylvania, announced it would delay the start of fall practice while it sought to get Wolf to change his position.

In a statement, the PIAA said Wolf's "strong recommendation" to delay sports "has a potential negative impact on the students' physical, social, emotional, and mental health" and argued that school plans for sports provided a reasonably safe environment for students as long as there was strict adherence to them.