Student-athletes of the 17 Catholic high schools of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will not compete this fall in football, soccer and other sports due to concerns over health and safety during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The PIAA, the statewide governing body for high school sports, gave the green light for sports this fall while leaving the ultimate decision to individual school districts. The archdiocesan schools are considered a district operating outside a geographic area like public schools, but following PIAA competition rules.

The decision to “opt out of participation in interscholastic competition for the fall 2020 season” was “not the scenario any of us desired,” according to archdiocesan school leaders including Immaculate Heart Sister Maureen McDermott, superintendent of secondary schools, and Irene Horstmann Hannan, CEO of Faith in the Future which operates the school system, who wrote a letter to parents and school communities Aug. 24.

While they expressed their sadness and recognized the disappointment for “students, families and coaches, particularly our seniors,” the leaders also emphasized “the value of athletics as part of our educational philosophy that seeks to provide for the holistic formation of young men and women of character,” wrote Hannan and Sister Maureen.

“It is our hope that your disappointment will be tempered by an understanding that we have an obligation to protect all those entrusted to our care,” they wrote.

The infection rate of the deadly coronavirus has leveled off in most areas of the Philadelphia region since peaking in early August, following dramatic peaks in April.

Over the past two weeks the archdiocese has released detailed information on how its Catholic elementary and high schools would deal with the twin vexing challenges of preventing new spikes in virus transmission and providing continued high-quality education.

Archdiocesan high schools are ready to reopen Sept. 1 using an A/B model in which half the students will attend a school day for in-person instruction and the other half virtually, then switch the following day. All the schools will also follow stringent health and social distancing protocols for maximum safety of students and staff.

But “given the nature of athletic competition and the manner in which COVID-19 is transmitted, there is currently no way for us to reasonably provide for the health and safety of student-athletes as well as those with whom they come into contact,” the leaders wrote.

They did not predict when other seasonal sports would resume, including winter sports such as basketball or spring sports such as softball, baseball and field hockey, among others.

Some schools that collect sports participation fees will not do so for the fall sports, and other schools that collect an annual participation fee will prorate fees for any cancelled sports, Hannan and Sister Maureen wrote.

Since the emergence of the coronavirus last spring, administrators of the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Schools worked on plans “to maintain the health and safety of each member of every school community,” the leaders wrote.

“Athletics could not be treated separately and it fell to us to make this decision in a manner consistent with everything else done to this time.”