The “rac” is back: behind the decision-making process

Fords football team takes the field in a 13-28 loss to Germantown Academy, October 31, 2020- Tyler Zimmer ’21

On October 9, student-athletes sat in their last period class when an email with the subject line “Inter-Ac statement on fall sports” appeared in their inbox. Anxious to know the fate of their fall seasons, they opened the statement.

     “After considering a number of factors related to the possibility of executing an interscholastic fall athletic season, the Inter-Ac is not ready to pursue such an endeavor at this time,” the letter read.

     The decision was met with mixed reactions. Some who yearned for an opportunity to showcase their offseason work felt disappointed. Some created petitions. Others felt the decision was safe and correct—the decision best for the school as a whole. At the time, athletic directors ultimately believed the decision was in the best interest of health and safety as the uncertainty of the colder months approached.

     They would, however, continue in “daily discussions with medical professionals and [their] fellow Inter-Ac schools about finding ways to allow some limited conference competitions in November in at least some sports if [they] believe [they] can do so safely.”

     A few weeks, petitions, and medical considerations later, the Inter-Ac reversed its decision: they were to return to league play.

     Director of Athletics Mr. Michael Murphy explained that both decisions—to cancel the league and return—were made after careful discussion of pros and cons.

     “The first and foremost concern was trying to make sure that when we return, we do it as safely as possible, where the student-athletes that are out there can safely return back to the community when they come back to school,” Mr. Murphy said.

     The Inter-Ac, as a unit, initially felt that this would not be possible, which led them to postpone competition.

     “Everybody’s number one goal was to be able to return to school in person, and we weren’t willing to do anything to risk that,” Mr. Murphy said. “We were trying to keep everything as contained to Haverford as possible, and that’s why we decided not to have any out of league or even inter-league competition, but we did decide to do athletics on our own campus.”

     After hearing this news, some student-athletes, such as Fifth Form football player Ian Rush, were frustrated.

Haverford defense brings down opposing player in a 13-28 loss to Germantown Academy on Saturday, October 31- Tyler Zimmer ’21

     “There were other leagues coming back and putting great plans into place [which were] limiting the number of people on the field,” Rush said. “I was looking at the facts, the stats, and what other leagues were implementing. We’re a much smaller league than the Central League, much smaller than the Catholic League—so why can’t we do it?”

     As other student-athletes throughout the Inter-Ac felt similar frustrations, Penn Charter junior Jerry Rullo created a statement voicing their views. The statement, different from various other petitions floating around, was addressed directly to the athletic directors and heads of school.

     “After they canceled fall sports, I’m sure we all were disappointed,” Rullo said. “We put in the work for the season usually all year, especially in the summer leading up to the season, and I think we were all disappointed to see that go to waste. We devote a lot to the sport, and I thought that the Inter-Ac league is particularly capable of handling the situation safely. I found a lot of support with that statement, so I thought the students should get the message across.”

     Quickly, “The Coalition of Inter-Academic Football Players”—consisting of student-representatives from each football-participating Inter-Ac school—formed in support of Rullo’s proposal. Rush was Haverford’s representative.

     “[Rullo] sent over the [proposal], and he gave stats, he gave facts, he gave examples from the collegiate level, which is a way bigger game than the high school level,” Rush said. “I put my name down as representative and then and then I was like, ‘Look, do you need help getting this to other schools?’”

     The statement gained support, spread throughout the Inter-Ac, and ultimately made its way to an Inter-Ac athletic directors’ meeting.

“[The representatives] are rivaling schools, but we were all working towards a common goal.”

Ian Rush ’22

     Rush said, “[The representatives] are all rivaling schools, but we were all working towards a common goal like they get our season back. It didn’t matter that me and [a rival] had some bad blood. I reached out to him and I was like, ‘We’re trying to get this season going up. Can you get this around?’ He said, ‘sure, without a doubt.’”

     Eventually, the league decided to return.

     “Right before they came to the decision [to return],” Rullo said, “they were informed by one of their health officials that transmission on the playing field during competitions wasn’t a significant factor.”

     This lack of evidence for transmission between players was one of the several arguments presented in the proposal.

     Mr. Murphy said, “[We] were hearing from doctors that there seemed to be very little transmission within the course of play from player to player . . . that’s why we’re putting such a painstaking measures into looking at the areas where they found spread [normally] occurs: on sidelines, in locker rooms, when teams decide to have dinner before games and things like that.”

     The athletic directors also considered the travel of student-athletes for club sports and college showcases.

Fords soccer during a huddle in a 0-1 loss to SCH on October 31- Tyler Zimmer ’21

     “It’s something we were aware of,” Mr. Murphy said, “but it wasn’t a driving factor. We didn’t say, ‘Oh they’re playing club sports anyway, so let’s do something dangerous.’ What was certainly brought up a couple of times was that if we offer athletics, and it makes some people from feeling like they have to do club sports, it may help slow the spread of this thing.”

     When the season was canceled, Rush and many others felt the need to travel out of state for showcases for college recruiting purposes.

     “I would say now that there’s football back and a lot of kids with the opportunity to build their film and build their college resume, there’s going to be less need to go to Scranton to play with kids from New York, Maryland, and Connecticut, which is what I did,” Rush said.

     While the petitions, statements, and the desire for students to play were discussed amongst the athletic directors, safety was, and still is, of utmost importance and the sole decision-maker.

“If we did not feel like we could do this in a safe way, we would not be having athletics.”

Mr. Michael Murphy

     “We’ve gone through a very good process with this and people can feel confident that we looked at this in a lot of different ways,” Mr. Murphy said. “I would like to emphasize that if we did not feel like we could do this in a safe way, we would not be having athletics.”

Author: Mitav Nayak '22

Mitav Nayak has contributed to The Index since 2018. He currently serves as Editor-in-Chief. Mitav won the fall 2019 Pennsylvania School Press Association (PSPA) Philadelphia-area Student Journalism Competition for Newspaper Sports Story Writing and was to compete for the state title in the spring of 2020 (canceled due to COVID).