County, city schools update COVID protocols

Athens High School has initiated several protocols to help protect its fans and players during basketball games. Limestone County Schools have also developed protocols, with athletic director Rusty Bates saying everyone will have to work together to ensure a good basketball season.

Athens and Limestone County made it through the fall sports season without any major COVID-19 issues, but athletic administrators are remaining diligent so winter sports, including basketball and wrestling, can continue without interruption.

Basketball season began last week in Athens and Limestone County, and administrators have come up with some guidelines for attending games in the county. The coronavirus can spread more easily indoors, which makes it more important for people to abide by social distancing and mask requirements during basketball season.

It’s a very fluid situation,” Limestone County Athletic Director Rusty Bates said. “This is where we’re going to start. We’ll evaluate it in a week or two, and if it’s not working, we’ll tighten it down. We’re following the same basic guidelines the AHSAA has provided.”

The county does not currently have a specific capacity limit due to the main gymnasiums all being so large, but capacity will be limited by the requirement to maintain proper distancing between spectators from different households, Bates said.

Concession stands are allowed to operate. It is recommended to have all prepackaged food items, but it is not required.

Bates said the biggest change has been in scheduling. Usually, all six basketball games (girls and boys middle school, junior varsity and varsity) at a school are played on the same night using the main and auxiliary gymnasiums.

Bates said playing six games on the same night in the two gyms will mean too many people congregating in the same location, especially since the auxiliary gyms are much smaller. Therefore, the middle school games will be moved to a different night, Bates said.

It’s not the best way, but it’s the only thing that works right now,” he said. “Our old method of playing middle school on Monday night and JV and varsity on Tuesday nights we are having to do at some places. It kind of keeps us from having to use those old auxiliary gyms. We’re still going to have to use them for competitions, but those are fewer than in past years.”

Athens High School has also released its guidelines for basketball games in Athens Arena. Fans are asked to arrive as close to the time of the game as possible and leave the gym immediately after the game. Fans must be seated at all times except for going to the restroom, concession stand or leaving the gym. There will be no standing on the rails at any time.

Tickets for AHS games can only be purchased online through with single-game tickets going on sale one day before the home game.

Team benches will be moved to allow for social distancing, and face coverings are to be worn when a player is on the bench.

While Athens is only selling tickets online, two Limestone County schools are selling tickets online and at the gate: East Limestone and Ardmore. The other four county schools will only sell tickets at the gate.

Bates said the county would have to go to online-only ticket sales if a capacity limit needed to be enforced.

If we have to have a capacity limit, we’ll have to use some type of counting system, and those online tickets make it easier on our schools,” he said.

Either way, everyone will have to work together in order to get through basketball season, he said.

I’m concerned about this,” Bates said. “It’s just going to be tough. It’s not going to be fun.”

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