Students – albeit not socially distant – cheer during a high school football game earlier this month in Herriman, Utah. Utah is among the states going forward with high school football this fall, and it’s up to individual school districts to decide whether fans should be in attendance. AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

At the end of the first quarter of a high school football game last week in American Fork, Utah, Athletic Director Jeremy Lewis stopped the game, grabbed a microphone and addressed the crowd.

He had a simple message: If the fans wanted the game to continue, they had to put on face masks and move to their socially distanced assigned seats in their assigned sections. After he was done, the players on that sideline turned to the crowd and told them to start moving. Quickly, the masks went on and fans, who had gathered together without wearing masks, moved. The moment was captured on video because the game was being televised and quickly made the rounds on social media.

“It was a little nervous but it was the right thing to do,” said Lewis. “It doesn’t matter the politics in it. It doesn’t matter if you believe in wearing masks or not wearing masks. All it is is about these kids playing football and having that opportunity.”

Lewis was speaking Monday morning during a session of the Pandemic Task Force, a biweekly virtual resource chat room set up by Thornton Academy Athletic Director Gary Stevens that attracts experts and athletic directors from across the country. They discuss the issues they face as high schools navigate the coronavirus pandemic.

While the Maine Principals’ Association has yet to announce its plans for the fall season – that will come by Thursday – Monday’s Pandemic Task Force presented ways other states are dealing with fans. Also joining the chat was Glen Gillespie, the interim executive director of the Ohio Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. Just last week, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine cleared the way for contact sports such as football, soccer and field hockey to be played in that state, with football games beginning this Friday night.

In both those states, specific guidelines have been established for fans attending games. In Utah, for example, the state association left it up to each individual school district to make that determination. The Alpine School District, of which American Fork is a member, allows 25 percent of stadium capacity, along with masks and social distancing. And if those protocols aren’t met, school officials are given the option to stop the game. Lewis said he had done that at a girls’ soccer game earlier.

In Ohio, state guidelines cap attendance at 1,500, or 15 percent capacity of the stadium, whichever is lower. Gillespie said that, in most of the state, that would limit crowds to the players, cheerleaders, band members and parents. “You’re probably not going to see a lot of students at games,” he said.

Lewis also noted that tickets are sold online only, and that to purchase tickets, fans must sign an agreement that they will follow the safety protocols. “Really, I’m just holding them accountable to the agreements that they signed,” he said, noting that other school districts in Utah are not allowing any fans at games.

In Maine, athletic directors have been discussing the fan issue for a while. Stevens said Monday’s discussion “takes this conversation to another level.”

For one, he said, he will consider selling tickets online instead of paper tickets at the gate. Online ticketing allows the school to set specific socially distanced seating areas for fans, while also keeping track of anyone who has purchased a ticket in the event contact tracing is needed should a person who has attended the game test positive for COVID-19.

“For someone like me, who has always utilized paper tickets, I can now see a variety of advantages (online ticket sales) gives you,” he said.

Marshwood Athletic Director Rich Buzzell said the biggest concern is opening the school facilities to the possible risk of an outside contamination. “My main goal is to provide the safest atmosphere, for our kids, our coaches and our personnel,” he said. “And I’m not sure allowing fans will provide our safest atmosphere.”

Buzzell and Stevens both hoped that some consistent guidelines will be developed regarding fans, either by the state or the MPA.

“The most important thing is to try to get the kids out to play and get them together,” said Buzzell. “If that comes at the expense of not having fans at games, I’m OK with that.”


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