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No Fans Allowed

PIAA: Fall sports to proceed without spectators

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS The gates at Don Malinak Stadium will remain locked during high school sporting events this fall. The PIAA’s recently released guidelines will impact football, soccer, volleyball, golf and cross country.

No fans. No cheerleaders. No marching band.

Friday Night Lights? More like Friday Night Silence.

That’s how it will be at high school sports venues around Pennsylvania as the PIAA announced on Wednesday that fans would not be permitted at any high school sporting events this fall. Football, soccer, girls’ volleyball, golf and cross country will all be fan-less.

On Wednesday, the PIAA released more guidelines on their “Return to Play” for fall, which included prohibiting fans at events for now. Of note: This could change in the coming weeks, but the PIAA said in all its scenarios for sports returning, spectators were not part of the equation.

The decision puts area athletic directors in a tough spot.

“It’s going to be very strange,” said Central Mountain High School athletic director George Bidwell. “We have to put the safety of our student-athletes and coaches first. It definitely puts schools between a rock and a hard spot.”

Bidwell said that he knows that the decision to keep fans out will upset some.

“The guidelines the PIAA set … they’re really just following the governor’s guidelines. I believe our hands are tied a little bit right now,” he said.

While it’s hard to imagine a Friday night football game without fans, marching bands, concessions, 50/50s and the like, that’s where things stand — for now.

“It’s all very crazy,” said Bald Eagle Area Athletic Director Doug Dyke. “There are a lot of question marks right now.”

Because the PIAA guidelines keep parents, family, students and friends locked out, Dyke said that he’s hoping to stream every athletic event live on Bald Eagle Area’s YouTube channel, Eagle Ambassadors, Inc.

“That’s our plan. We’re hoping to stream all the games. We’re already talking about buying more equipment, more iPads,” Dyke noted.

He said that he’s also looking into streaming the contests on Facebook Live.

“That’s definitely something we’re looking at,” Dyke said.

Bidwell said that Central Mountain and Bucktail are doing the same.

“We’ve been in discussions with our technology team about doing that. We know there are ways to stream it so parents and families can watch their student-athletes compete,” Bidwell said.

According to Dyke, fall sports at BEA include football, boys’ soccer, girls’ soccer, girls’ volleyball, golf and cross country. All of the sports — with the exception of golf and cross country — typically draw large crowds.

Dyke said that the school will likely have to take precautions to keep overzealous fans out of the area on Friday nights.

“I imagine that (fans) won’t be allowed on the property, so we’ll need to have more security at the stadium,” Dyke said.

While football draws large crowds, sports like soccer and volleyball typically do not. Still, Dyke said he can’t imagine a scenario where fans are admitted to one sporting event, but not another.

“My feeling is that it’s all or nothing. You can’t allow fans for one sport, but not the other,” he said.

Bidwell agreed.

“The guidelines say (groups of 25) for indoors and (groups of 250) for outdoor events. It’s almost impossible to have fans and I think the PIAA wanted everything to be consistent. You don’t want to go from district to district and experience different rules,” he said.

In the Bellefonte Area School District, athletic director Deb Moore said that she was not shocked by the “no fans” rule.

“That has been a RTP (Return to Play) option for a while and since that seems to be the standard, I am not surprised,” Moore said.

Should spectators eventually be allowed to attend contests, attendance will be subject to some important limitations that were also included in the PIAA’s Preliminary School Sports Guidance:

— Seating areas, including bleachers, must adhere to social distancing requirements of at least six feet of spacing for anyone not in the same household. To assist with proper social distancing, areas should be clearly marked. Adults must (wear) face coverings — masks or face shields — at all times.

— Spectators should not enter the field of play or bench areas.

— Non-essential visitors, spectators and volunteers should be limited when possible, including activities with external groups or organizations.

— The PIAA also said the decision about when sports will start up will be up to each individual district.

Heat acclimation for high school football is scheduled to begin on Monday, Aug. 10. Other sports can begin practice on Monday, Aug. 17. The first high school football games around the state are scheduled for Friday, Aug. 28.

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