Packed stands. Roaring crowds. Blaring music. That is what sports games used to look like. This season of sports looks different than in years’ past due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Marion County Public Health Department has had to set guidelines as to how many can attend games based on the local number
of cases. For most of December and January, only parents were allowed to attend games since the county’s positivity rate was over 10%. On Jan. 27, MCPHD announced that fans were allowed to return to games at a 25% capacity.
“It is all based on what category Marion County is in,” athletic director Mike Penrose said. “If we’re in red, which means that the positivity rate is above 10%, then the
Marion County board of health can shut down schools, they can shut down events and things like that. Throughout the winter we’ve been going back and forth based on where we’re at. The board of health will dictate that and they will tell school systems what we can and can’t do.”
The school has implemented safety measures to help protect fans and players. This includes an electronic ticketing system, hand sanitizer stations, mask wearing, and social distancing.
“[Fans] already have their tickets on their phone, so they’ll come to the ticket gate, and our ticket takers all we have to do is accept it and redeem the ticket, and then they get to go in. We have hand sanitizer at the gates. We have signs that say masks are required. We encourage people to spread out as much as possible,” Penrose said.
The lack of fans this season has created a different environment than in years past. Instead of the packed stands and loud crowds, the gyms now feel almost empty.
“One of the things we saw early when we were in red early December was the LN and LC game. That was a really close game. One of the things we kept talking about, myself and an Indianapolis Star reporter, they were like ‘this is just a weird environment’ because it’s a rivalry game, but it felt like almost like a pick up game. Late in that game it was pretty close. It was like a one possession game and that place would have been packed. It would have been crowded. There would have been an energy and you just didn’t feel that. It’s a little hard for the players especially during a game like that,” Penrose said.
Team parent Antionette Welch wanted to be able to encourage the players despite the lack of fans. She had posters printed of the student section leaders and hung
them in the stands to show the players that the fans are still cheering them on. In addition, she gives snacks and notes to the players before games for encouragement.
“I felt like the fans needed to be there, and the players expressed how much they missed seeing the spirit leaders and fans there, and I thought that would give
them something to look over and seeing their classmates pictures in the stands while they were playing,” Welch said.
Senior basketball player Jayla Smith believes the fans do encourage her when playing. However, she believes that the bigger encouragement is her teammates which
has helped them continue to perform well throughout the season.
“I do think fans help encourage. But that really doesn’t matter. It starts with my teammates and our encouragement together. That’s what it takes to win,” Smith said.
While the lack of fans has certainly been an adjustment, Penrose hopes players can focus on the positive: that they still have a season. This especially resonates with the boys basketball team who had their state tournament cancelled after they won sectionals.
“The good thing is the kids still get to play. We have to understand where we’ve come from and where we are now. You have to put it in perspective and be thankful that we’re allowed to play at this point,” Penrose said.