After five long months and lots of uncertainty, high school sports in Limestone County will resume Thursday when Tanner hosts Ardmore in the first football game of the 2020 season.
While people in Limestone County are excited for the new football season to begin, county athletic director Rusty Bates is urging fans to take precautions as they attend games this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are encouraging everyone to only sit with members of their own household and self-monitor,” Bates said. “If you have any type of fever or symptoms, please don’t come.”
This weekend’s slate of games is light, partly because of game cancellations due to positive COVID-19 tests. The only game Friday is Elkmont hosting Randolph. Bates said the district was taking extra precautions with fans at that game due to several people in the Elkmont school and community testing positive for the virus recently.
“We are going to do temperature checks on people as they enter the gate for that game Friday night,” Bates said. “Hopefully, we won’t have any trouble because people will be self-monitoring. We will also have different entrance points for each set of fans. Elkmont fans will come through one entrance, while Randolph fans will come through another entrance.”
Bates said as of now, temperature checks are only going to be done at the Elkmont-Randolph game. But it is something the county could do in the future if needed.
“Due to the proximity of where many of our cases have been, we feel like (temperature checks are) a necessity,” Bates said of Friday’s game. “We are telling our fans, expect some delays in getting into that game.
While temperature checks won’t be done at all games, masks will be required to be able to enter any stadium, Bates said. That will be important, as some of the stadiums, such as West Limestone’s, only have one entrance, which causes a mass of people at the gates, making it impossible to practice social distancing.
“The problem is the layouts of our stadiums,” Bates said. “It’s just hard to keep people separated with the layouts we have. We are looking at having possibly two entrances to all of our stadiums, but that is going to be something we’ll need to work on.”
Ardmore and East Limestone are offering an online ticketing system in order to prevent long ticket lines from building up at the stadium. Bates said the two schools are running it as a pilot program, and if it is successful, other schools in the county could use the same thing.
“If you’re planning on going to an Ardmore or East game, we encourage you to use the online ticket system,” Bates said. “You can get in the game faster and not have to stand in line. That way, we don’t have to touch money and it takes the contact (between fans and school employees or volunteers) out.”
The county is also not planning on limiting capacity for any outdoor events at this time, Bates said.
“The state just says you should be able to social distance,” he said. “We’re not going to put an attendance number on our stadiums right now. It may be something we have to do in the future, but we’re going to see how it goes with just encouraging people to socially distance and wear masks.”
Concession stands and bathrooms will also be open, which is another reason why people should wear their masks at the games, Bates said.
Families sitting together and away from others is something that can be easily done, but one section of the stands where social distancing has never been practiced is the student section.
Students normally cram into a small section, where they paint their faces — or sometimes their chests — and cheer on the team.
Bates said the student section is the area of the stands that concerns him most, but they will not be banned, at least not at the start of the season.
“We are not promoting student sections this year,” Bates said. “We realize our students will sit together, and we’ll allow them to do so, but we encourage they keep proper spacing, similar like they do in the hallways of schools.”
Students in marching bands will also experience a much different season. Bands that travel to road games will be limited to a 25-person pep band, while bands at home games will only be able to have a portion of the bands sit in the stands during the game.
“Most of our stadiums are not going to be able to seat the band together, so we’re looking at some alternate ways to rotate the band in and out,” Bates said. “We just don’t have the room for them to be able to space out, especially our two largest bands, Ardmore and East Limestone.”
Bates said the seating situation will be at the discretion of the school principal. Band members who are not sitting in the stands can stay outside the stadium or head into the band room at the school.
Bates said some schools may choose to have the band perform its normal halftime show pregame, and then send all but a pep band home.
“It’s going to be different for everyone,” Bates said. “Hopefully, everyone will work together and we can have a great season.”