It’s best to let schools decide crowd limits
There’s no doubt that policies concerning high school sports aren’t as important as other health and economic issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the fact remains that it’s a subject that matters a great deal to many people. That’s why it’s been a frequent topic of passionate discussion around Pennsylvania for the past month or so.
It looks as though we may have reached the point where the issue is settled, at least for the time being.
Now that Gov. Tom Wolf’s restrictions on gathering sizes are on hold due to a federal court ruling, the issue of how many people may attend school sporting events is being left in the hands of local school boards and administrators.
We believe that this is a positive development. If local education officials can be trusted to come up with plans for how to deliver education for this pandemic, they should be able to make decisions on how to safely put on athletic contests and other events and allow people to watch them. They know their facilities and their communities well enough to make sensible decisions
The governor and secretary of health have their hearts in the right place. We’ve supported their efforts to prevent an out-of-control spread of the virus. Large gatherings certainly can be dangerous, especially if proper precautions aren’t taken.
But when it comes to the issue of school sports, the Wolf administration has been sending mixed messages. Basically school districts and athletic conferences were being told that the state didn’t like the idea of resuming sports in the fall but would leave the issue in local hands. Yet the state still wanted to be the one that decided how many people could be at each game.
The Wolf administration’s limits of no more than 25 people, including participants, at indoor events and up to 250 outdoors presented a number of problems.
For starters, some indoor sports have more than 25 participants. Following the letter of the rules would require some reserve players and others involved in the game to stay outside the gym. And football involves large teams with plenty of coaches and support staff. If bands and cheerleaders are to attend, it’s easy to approach or exceed the state limit before anyone else is allowed to watch.
As long as school districts enact sensible policies and enforce them, allowing more people at games should not be a problem.
Most high school sports don’t draw tremendous crowds. Spreading out those in attendance shouldn’t be a problem even in smaller venues.
As for football, stadiums are big enough to accommodate more than 250 people safely, allowing for attendance by those closest to the game participants and for at least some of the pomp and color that traditionally go with the games.
We believe it’s only right to allow limited attendance at games. While there’s no doubt that participation in sports offers many benefits, it’s something of an empty experience if there’s no one there to watch the games.
We trust that school leaders will approach this carefully as they have other aspects of the return to classes this fall. If problems do materialize, they must be prepared to adjust. And they must be vigilant about making sure people follow the rules of social distancing and wearing masks. We urge those who have the opportunity to attend games to keep this in mind and not engage in behavior that jeopardizes the availability of this opportunity.
It’s our hope that a successful fall sports season will enable districts to find ways to allow audiences for other school activities, most notably performing arts.
Everyone should understand that this is not going to be a typical school year and be prepared to accept it. But if schools safely can provide at least some cherished experiences to their students and families, they absolutely should do so. And if schools do get this accomplished safely, the governor and his administration should let the issue go no matter what judges decide.