The fluidity of the COVID-19 pandemic has kept most of the world in “reaction” mode with situations changing from moment to moment.
Hoping to give their student-athletes as many opportunities for a sports season as they can has area Athletic Directors scrambling to stay ahead of events.
With that said the tantamount concern for the AD’s is the safety of everyone involved – fans, players, and coaches.
There are some universal protocols that every school has put in place.
“Currently we have moved to only allowing parents to attend our home events at LaVille,” said Laner AD Will Hostrawser. “We require all attendees (including players and coaches) to wear a mask, stay socially distanced, and leave immediately following the conclusion of the contest.”
“We are limiting spectators to immediate family members,” said Glenn AD Eric Stephens. “We are keeping the team and communities separate in the gym.”
Currently, Culver is a little different for the entry of fans.
“Currently we are at 25 percent of capacity in our gyms with face masks required,” said Zehner. “If we are to move to red as a county that could change our entry plan.”
He also said that in addition to those precautions they have also added “…extra cleaning/sanitizing,” to their routine.
At Plymouth Michael Delp and his staff also “…provide sanitizer and disinfectant spray,” with their protocols.
Even with the precautions for safety in place, a few athletes and their parents decided that the risk was just too great for them and their families.
“We have had a couple opt out because of safety,” said Zehner.
“I do not know of any students opting out for the winter season,” said Hostrawser. “We did have a couple in the fall though.”
“We have no kids or parents that have opted out to my knowledge,” said Delp. “I am sure it is possible that some chose not to play a sport and didn’t let us know COVID is the reason for them not playing.”
Plymouth has offered an option for added athlete safety and parent peace of mind.
“We have provided the option for parents to transport their son or daughter to away games,” said Delp. “Thus avoiding potentially being exposed and close contact to those that sit near them on the bus.”
The sudden rise of positive cases in the area has played havoc with the winter sports season causing a multitude of cancellations and postponements, and as area AD’s begin the process of rescheduling lost games there is one thing that they all face.
“Finding dates that fit and finding officials,” said Zehner. “The officials are losing income as well because of all the games being cancelled. A lot of the officials I have for a game that is canceled can not do the makeup game because they are booked on the makeup date.”
“There’s no doubt that the season will be affected with this, and as I told our coaches, don’t expect to play the maximum amount of games,” said Stephens. “Each game we play is a blessing at this point.”
“Normally we try not to play boys and girls games on the same night. However, that will not be the case with some make-up games this season due to a limited number of nights to play games,” said Triton AD Mason McIntire. “Ideally we would like to play basketball games two nights a week but it’s looking like we may be playing three nights a week more frequently than in the past.”
“Determining which games to reschedule is going to be hard because we want all kids at all levels to get as many game reps as possible,” said Delp. “But if the JV team has been knocked out due to COVID and the varsity can still play, then we almost have to go ahead and play the varsity game knowing that it will be really difficult to reschedule individual JV games.”
“Additionally, trying to determine which weekend tournaments we can host safely and which ones we cannot has been a challenge,” said Delp.
“Communicating to coaches, players and parents needs to be immediate,” said Hostrawser of the rescheduling process. “Then we need to move to rearranging transportation, event workers, officials, concession stand personnel, practice schedules, facilities, media/broadcasting schedules and finally rearranging digital tickets.”
“All these things need to be addressed for each schedule change made,” he said. “Most people don’t realize that except when one of those details is missed.”
With the number of fans limited to just parents of participants at most schools, and older fans and those in the highly susceptible category such as grandparents and those with medical conditions being asked to stay home for their safety, area AD’s began working on methods to allow them to still see the contests in some way.
Schools like Argos, Triton, and Culver already have had a system in place for several years.
“We have an awesome crew that already provides our games live on YouTube,” said Triton’s McIntire. “We will continue this process moving forward.”
“We stream all of our boys and girls basketball games along with wrestling matches with help from RTC4 on the IHSAA network,” said Zehner of their arrangements at Culver.
Argos High School uses RTC4 for many of their contests as well.
“We are live streaming the games for free on our web channel,” said Stephens of Glenn’s solution.
“All LaVille home events will be broadcast on the NFHS Network using the link,” said Hostrawser.
And at Plymouth…
“We are working on ways to live stream as many contests as we can,” said Delp. “We have been using YouTube to do this. Our channel is called PHSBIGRED. We may have to add a second channel.”
Those solutions do come with a price however and with revenues drastically down for all athletic departments due to lost ticket sales and fundraising activities, keeping those options free is increasingly difficult for all schools.
“We are losing revenue and would like to keep the live streams free to the public. Most schools are using some kind of pay per view,” said Delp. “In an effort to avoid the pay per view model, we are looking at a compensation model that will allow local companies to advertise at PHS via athletics. We are looking for four Anchor Sponsors that will receive large amounts of exposure in multiple mediums (permanent signage in multiple venues, live streams, audio commercials within game playlists, etc.)
“We recently bought multiple Sling Studios which allow groups to broadcast live streams using an iPad for production and iPhones as the cameras for up to 4 cameras,” said Delp. “We plan to use parents to become part of our essential staff for producing these live streams for athletic events. This creates a win/win for the athletic office and parents.”
But as each of the AD’s know, it could all change tomorrow.