Idaho schools can start allowing more fans into high school sporting events. But don’t expect the large crowds to return anytime soon.
Up to two fans per athlete — for both home and away teams — can attend high school sporting events under a new plan posted to the state’s coronavirus website.
The exemption allows a maximum of 76 fans into a high school basketball game and as many 84 fans for a wrestling duel. Previously, those events had to follow Gov. Brad Little’s Stage 2 order, which limited all gatherings to 10 people or fewer.
Superintendents and school board chairs must sign on to the new protocols by Jan. 15 to get access to the looser restrictions. But schools are not required to join. Schools that don’t agree to the new protocols must follow the more restrictive limit of 10 or fewer fans.
Highlights of the new, looser plan include:
- Fans must wear facial coverings unless they can sit 12 or more feet from others outside their household.
- All coaches, administrators, trainers, athletes not participating and other essential personnel must properly wear masks.
- Schools must clear and sanitize the gym after each game, including between junior varsity and varsity contests.
- Up to six cheerleaders can attend a game. Two fans per cheerleader can also attend.
- Bands and dance teams are not listed as participants or as essential.
- Fans will be allowed at wrestling duel meets, but not wrestling tournaments.
- Fans for the home and away teams must enter and leave through separate doors.
The plan limits the number of basketball players on a team to 13 for each freshman, junior varsity and varsity squad. Junior varsity and varsity wrestling teams can have up to 15 wrestlers — the number of weight classes in Idaho.
The exemption also spells out consequences for schools that violate its protocols. The first offense draws a written warning from the State Board of Education. A second offense leads to a forfeit of that contest. A third results in the forfeit of the rest of that sport’s season.
Only a coach, athletic director or administrator can file a complaint with the State Board of Education, though.
“Widespread noncompliance with this plan will lead to this exemption being revoked,” the exemption reads. All high school sports would then revert to the gathering limit of 10 spelled out in the governor’s Stage 2 order.
The number of fans allowed at high school sporting events has remained a hot-button topic throughout the coronavirus pandemic. When Idaho fell back into a modified Stage 2 on Nov. 14, many schools in the Treasure Valley opted to ban all fans instead of trying to figure out how to fairly allocate 10 tickets.
But some schools around the state reportedly ignored the gathering limit altogether, leading the State Board of Education to direct schools to comply.
The exemption largely mirrors what several education groups proposed to Gov. Little in December. Those groups include the Idaho School Administrators Association, the Idaho High School Activities Association, the Idaho School Boards Association and members of the State Board of Education, Idaho EdNews reported. Notably, those groups proposed requiring masks for fans when 6 feet of physical distancing is not possible. But the final exemption stretched that distance to 12 feet, a more difficult feat to achieve in all directions.
Compliance for previous guidelines proved difficult to achieve at high school events last fall. For example, local health districts granted the IHSAA an exemption to allow fans into its state football championships in November. That included up to 400 fans per team at the 5A state championship at Rexburg’s Madison High.
Fans of both teams largely crowded together in the 5,700-seat stadium, including student sections packed shoulder to shoulder.