Home schools given the freedom to choose spectator capacity

Supportive parent, Rachell Tucker, cheers on the boys varsity basketball at home against Red Mountain.

Supportive parent, Rachell Tucker, cheers on the boys’ varsity basketball at home against Red Mountain.

With the spring sports season right around the corner, the new COVID-19 guidelines have been altered. Universally, masks are still required for all athletes, spectators, parents, and coaches, but now it is up to each home school’s choice on the audience capacity for games. 

These guidelines were enacted with three weeks left in the winter season, so they have a chance to have more spectators at their games as well. 

Jennifer Burks, head of Perry’s athletic department, said that the district athletic directors together at the Chandler Unified School District as a whole decided on the capacity for games. Each athlete is allowed up to four guests per game previously compared to up to two parents per game. 

Burks backs the new decision made and said, “We thought that going to four was a good start because then it allowed maybe grandparents to come, siblings to come, or even best friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, that kind of thing.” 

Senior Megan Hedger plays for girls’ varsity soccer and expressed her enthusiasm for the new spectators. Since no one has been able to go to any games, Hedger said students are thrilled to have an opportunity to go to games. Hedger described their senior night at their home game on February 23, “The energy on the field and on the sidelines and coming from the parents and stuff was so much greater and it was so much nicer to play in when you have people cheering for you.”

Even with this decision that allows for more flexibility, tickets are not open to the public. Players are provided with a private link with password protection that leads to where their guests can purchase tickets. The away team is also provided with the same number of tickets for each athlete. 

Burks said that she can see the chance of athletes being more motivated with a genuine audience and crowd noise. She said, “I know the players are excited to have more fans… you never know what a difference having a spectator there can actually make.” 

Leading up to this decision, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) says that they closely monitored a few main factors that rendered improvement before opening games to more spectators. Specifically, assistant executive director of the AIA, Joe Paddock, says that they saw a four week decline in their positivity rate and hospitalizations in most counties that justified the adjusted freedom for spectator capacity. 

When asked why this decision was left to schools, Paddock said, “Some areas have been very adversely hit with COVID and still require strict adherence to all guidelines while other parts of the state are much closer to meeting the metric numbers required for participation.” He went on to make note of these diverse numbers across Arizona. He mentioned that Mohave had an 11.1% difference in positivity rates compared to Coconino the week before the Executive Board’s decision. 

Overall, Paddock encourages athletes and spectators to stay safe to continue improving upon these new guidelines.