Schools prepare to allow limited number of spectators for Week 2 of high school football

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Thursday, September 17, 2020 | 4:29 PM


Since the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association decided schools could move forward with fall sports last month, parents, fans and spectators have been itching for an opportunity to get inside Western Pennsylvania stadiums on Friday nights.

Restrictions set in place by Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf didn’t allow many fans to enjoy that privilege. Wolf and the state department of health set limits of 250 people at outdoor gatherings and 25 indoors, which forced school districts to operate in varying ways.

Those limits include athletes, coaches, trainers, officials and other game-day workers, leaving little room for spectators.

Some districts, like Upper St. Clair, allowed nearly 400 spectators into their stadium for their season opener against Bethel Park. USC considered the playing surface, along with their two sets of bleachers, as separate gatherings. Even at that point, USC athletic director Kevin Deitrick said they were below 10% capacity.

Some parents may get the opportunity to watch their children play when Week 2 kicks off Friday as schools put their own interpretation of the guidelines in place.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV ruled that Wolf’s statewide limits on gathering sizes are unconstitutional. Wolf then said Wednesday the state department of education will release updated guidelines regarding interscholastic sporting events, but didn’t say what they would include.

No matter Wolf’s decision, some schools are creating ways to allow spectators into their stadiums, but are still looking to keep fans and game personnel safe.

Some districts are sticking to a 250-person limit, but are getting creative with how that number is distributed. Others are moving forward with plans they feel are safe for their individual situation.

Hottest ticket in town

Heading into Week 2, most schools have elected to go with varying ticket amounts based on their individual situations. Norwin is giving two tickets to each one of its senior game day participants, so their parents can attend on Friday night.

Norwin athletic director Mike Burrell, who was hired in August, said it was a hectic process over the past few months to get everything organized, but it was all for the student-athletes.

“We are doing our best to try and get as many people into the events as possible,” Burrell said. “Our No. 1 concern is the participants in the game, the players, the cheerleaders and the band members. Friday night football is an event that they all work hard in the offseason for, and they deserve that right to participate in the activity.”

Deer Lakes is going with a similar approach for its game with Derry on Friday night. Athletic director Chuck Bellisario said they are dolling out two tickets to each family that has a participant in the contest, whether that be a football player, cheerleader or band member.

“That enables us to have our physical distancing, and we’ll have green and yellow x’s on the bleachers where families can sit in the stands,” Bellisario said. “We were looking to stay under the 250 mark.”

Deer Lakes also will move the band behind one of the end zones to free up space for spectators.

View from the outside

Schools have the ability to control how many people they let inside of their stadium, but some are in a situation where they can’t monitor who views from the outside.

Spectators at Norwin and Highlands, among many other schools, can watch from outside the stadium. During their Week 1 matchup with Hempfield, Burrell said Norwin fans positioned themselves along the fence surrounding the stadium and overlooking the field from a hillside.

“People maintained their social distance with chairs and things,” Burrell said. “It’s a pretty good view from outside the stadium as well.”

Highlands also has a stadium where spectators have a good view from outside the fence. During their scrimmage with Valley two weeks ago, spectators lined up on the fence along California Avenue and Argonne Drive. Both schools have also done their due diligence when it comes to making those fans aware of social distancing protocols.

“If they are on the outside, there is not much we are going to do about that, but we do have signs around the stadium making people aware of social distancing and safety protocols,” Highlands athletic director Drew Karpen said.

Band first, football after

Highlands also took a unique approach with its band performance in order to allow parents of band members, football players and cheerleaders to watch their children.

Rather than have band members perform during halftime Friday, they will perform from 5:15 to 5:45 p.m. ahead of the game.

“Their fans will be able to come into the game to see them perform and then the band and their parents will leave the stadium, and we’ll be back to zero in terms of numbers,” Karpen said. “That will allow the other parents to come and watch their kids afterwards.”

Highlands band parents also will sit on the visitors side of the stadium and fans attending the football game will sit on the home side during the game, which will allow stadium staff to do one full cleaning after the game has been completed Friday.

Safety protocols

School districts are still following specific safety protocols to keep attendees and players safe.

Stadium bleachers are marked to show where families can sit and those in attendance need to wear a mask. Some schools also are taking further precautions. Deer Lakes will ask spectators to fill out a wellness form, and Norwin plans to make announcements throughout the game reminding spectators to adhere to the protocols in place.

Streaming services

For fans who can’t find a way into a game Friday, many schools are providing online streaming services. In addition, the TribLive High School Sports Network is streaming more than 30 games on the Trib HSSN website.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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