Monday, April 12, 2021
April 12, 2021

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Martinez: Lack of fans makes for surreal scene at prep football games

High school sports

The Columbian
Published:

So there I was on Saturday night, sitting in the empty stands of a vacuous Kiggins Bowl.

And if you’ve ever been to a football game at Kiggins, you might think the stands are a long way from the playing field.

Well, I can tell you that when the stands are empty, it feels even farther away.

Just down below, a quintet of Hudson’s Bay cheerleaders broke into a cheer, as cheerleaders so often do.

“Let’s … get … a little bit rowdy! R-O-W … D-Y!”

And I looked around to no one and thought “Are they talking to me? Am I supposed to get a little bit rowdy?” Because, as a general rule, media members aren’t supposed to get even a little bit rowdy.

I thought the moment perfectly encapsulated the surreal feel of high school football during a pandemic.

And I share it with you because many of you won’t get the chance to experience what that feels like.

Some area high schools will not be allowing any fans to varsity football games this season, while others will only be allowing in a select few.

Protocols set down from the state restrict total attendees at high school events to 200, including the participants, coaches and officials.

And those guidelines can seem to be, depending on your point of view, anywhere from overly cautious to downright ridiculous.

For example, at a volleyball match given the average size of team rosters, that could allow for 150 spectators to gather inside an enclosed gymnasium. However, the same guidelines when applied to a football game, with its much bigger rosters, would only allow for 30 to 60 spectators in an outdoor venue with a seating capacity of nearly 100 times that number.

So the bigger the football roster means there are fewer spots for spectators. In some cases, fans won’t be allowed at all for football. However, for other sports, a limited number of family members will be allowed to attend.

Vancouver Public Schools started out by prohibiting all spectators for all sports in the first week that play resumed. But that policy will change starting Wednesday, said Dave Bennett, director of athletics for VPS.

“We took a cautious approach to welcoming back fans during this first week in order to ensure that the protocols we have in place for these contests would adequately protect our students, staff members and community members,” Bennett said.

The state’s restrictions are putting many school administrators into a corner, and schools are doing their best to allow parents and fans to watch the games.

Some are schools are broadcast games live on local cable access channels. Others are livestreaming games on YouTube, Facebook Live or on a team website.

Others are opting for livestreaming on the NFHS Network, which does require a $10.99 monthly subscription, although I opted for the $69.99 annual option. That breaks down to less than $6 a month.

I know watching games on TV or even a computer screen is not the same as being there in person.

Last weekend, I saw a few hardy souls who tried to watch games from outside stadium gates. Depending on the stadium, that may be possible.

At Seton Catholic, about 30 to 40 fans collecting behind the fence along the east end zone to watch the action. But at other facilities — McKenzie Stadium is a good example — it may be very difficult to find a good vantage point outside the gates.

And that is very frustrating to many fans. I get it. The schools get it. Everyone gets it.

But the state, as it has throughout this pandemic, is being overly cautious with its guidelines.

If you don’t want someone driving faster the 25 mph on your street, put up 15 mph speed limit sign. Although these limitations on spectators at outdoor venues sure feel like a 2 mph speed limit.

And if following these protocols allow the kids to keep playing, then that’s what the schools will do.

The hope is if schools and fans can follow these restrictive guidelines, the state might ease back its restrictions as infection rates go down. That’s about all we can do right now.

Try to think back to a month ago, when no one was sure if there would be a season in any sport.

People were clamoring “Let the kids play! We don’t care if fans aren’t allowed to attend. Just let the kids play.”

Well, now the kids are playing, so be happy. And if that means you have to flip on your computer to watch, so be it.

And while you’re watching at home, you can get as rowdy as you want.

Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at (360) 735-4538, tim.martinez@columbian.com or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.

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