Marion area schools accommodating fall sports fans in different ways amid COVID-19

MARION - The end is simple. People want to see high school athletes get the chance to be competitive again.

The means to get there are anything but simple.

Over the last couple weeks, the area's athletic directors have worked tirelessly to make sure they find a way to the end while satisfying all the necessary coronavirus protocols put forth by the Ohio Department of Health, local health departments and the Ohio High School Athletic Association..

"We want these kids to play and let’s do everything we can as adults to keep their seasons going," Pleasant Athletic Director Eric Holman said of his goal. "Up until just a little while ago, I wasn’t sure if we would get to do it in the fall, so this is a very positive aspect for our kids."

He wasn't alone.

"Everybody can be a bit uncomfortable, and it can be frustrating, but we’re doing this for our kids, so let’s all cooperate and do it together," Marion Harding Athletic Director Sean Keans said.

According to OHSAA Senior Director of Sport Management and Officiating Beau Rugg, school districts must take ownership of this new normal if fall sports are to be contested to the end of the season despite the pandemic.

"As we saw in the spring, sports can be shut down due to COVID-19 spread, so our schools, coaches and student-athletes want to do everything they can to play as many games this fall as possible," Rugg said in a release. "Teams must continue to follow the safety protocols that have been put in place, including wearing a facial covering, staying 6-feet apart and washing their hands.”

But a lot more is going into making sure fans can see their favorite athletes compete, while accommodating the new ODH edict where sports facilities around the state can only be at 15 percent capacity. Here's a closer look at how each district in the area is trying to take care of its fan base:

Marion Harding

The Presidents are allotting three tickets to each football player, cheerleader and band member for both schools. All tickets will be sold beforehand for $5, and none are available at the gate on football Friday nights. There are also no reserved seats and no passes accepted. Gate workers will be simply tearing tickets, according to Kearns. 

Due to smaller rosters in volleyball and the size of Harding's gym, he anticipates those players being allotted four tickets per match. The Prexies already hosted a soccer doubleheader with no issues at the stadium.

More: Marion Harding Football: Presidents handling uneasiness by controlling the controllables

"The key to all this stuff is common sense. We have all kinds of markings all over the stadium and the gym. We have arrows to encourage one-way traffic. With distancing, we want to respect how we mark the stands as far as seating. We have markings along the fence surrounding the field that are six feet apart. The only thing we ask is if somebody is going to stand along the fence that they stand singularly. If they want to sit with a family group, they need to be in the stands for that."

For those unable to attend, the Marion City Schools telecom department is offering a free live streaming of all home football games on a YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCMx4AYEf7E&feature=youtu.be.

River Valley

Like Harding, RV will be allotting three tickets for players, cheerleaders and band members for home football games.

"Obviously I know that’s going to be hard for people because you’ve got grandparents and step-parents and a lot of people in these kids’ lives who have helped them get to this point. I’m empathetic to that to the Nth degree," RV AD Travis Stout said. "The reality of the situation is we’re so limited with the number of people we can get in that we just felt the best way to go about it was to give everybody an equal number of tickets for the varsity football game."

More: River Valley Football: Vikings embracing changes brought by 2020

Volleyball will allot four tickets per player, while soccer could see anywhere from two to four tickets depending if the junior varsity is playing, too. Tickets are $5 for students and adults as well as for high school and middle school events.

Tad Douce, the district's tech director, is setting up a free live stream for those unable to go to home events. Those streams will likely be found on Facebook Live, Stout said.

Pleasant

With capacity at the football stadium going from 2,400 to 360 and the gym going from 1,000 to 150, Pleasant is allowing two tickets for every football player, cheer, dance and band member, plus two for every opposing player with any left-over tickets being offered to PHS students. No tickets will be sold at the gate. Volleyball players will get two tickets as well for their matches.

The bleachers at both venues will be marked to show where people can sit while being socially distanced.

More: Pleasant Football: Spartans ready for 'when the pads start popping'

A Pleasant student will live stream home games with a local business monetizing it for the district.

"We are going to charge for that. We will live stream our home games (at IHunterProductions.com/live on YouTube.com), and we’re going to charge $12. We figure if a husband and wife or grandma and grandpa stay home it’s still $6 a piece. It’s not a lot of money. We’re just trying to recoup some of the money we are losing," Holman said.

Elgin

Due to the size of the band and the larger football roster this year, Elgin AD Jason Hix is hopeful he can allot two tickets to each one. But with the way the stadium is set up, it's proving difficult.

"The state order gives you a 15-percent figure, which is very misleading because it also says everybody has to be six-foot socially distant," Hix said. "Using the current configuration of our bleachers at football and the main gym for volleyball, socially distanced doesn’t get us to 15 percent. We’re looking at numbers closer to 10 percent."

More: Elgin Football: Comets look to overcome winless season with new head coach Zack Winslow

He was awaiting word on whether some fans could bring lawn chairs and spread out around the field. Tickets for all high school and middle school events are $5 for students and adults.

The Elgin Athletic Boosters on its Facebook page EHS Boosters-Athletics will stream home games live and for free.

Ridgedale

The Rockets are allowed to have up to 350 fans at home football games, so the school will allot two vouchers for every opposing player with the rest reverting back to Ridgedale to be divided up among the players, cheerleaders and band members. That number will change from game to game due to the differing roster sizes of opponents. Football tickets are $5 across the board.

Band members will be in the end zone to free up more space for fans, and Ridgedale is allowed to use festival seating on its hillside. Limited concessions will be available.

As for other sports, Ridgedale is still a member of the Northern 10 Athletic Conference, which has mandated four vouchers per player. Those tickets are $6 for varsity and JV contests and $4 for middle school games. Space shouldn't be an issue for volleyball as Ridgedale's gym is among the largest in north central Ohio.

"As soon as they get in, we’re going to push making sure you have the mask on and the social distancing so that they are only with the people within their group. That is the plan as of now," Ridgedale AD Cherie Leach said.

As for live streaming, it will be free and links will be found on the school district's website and its social media feeds.

North Union

The Wildcats are like a lot of schools as they are struggling to accommodate the 15-percent rule.

"Fifteen percent comes a lot quicker than 1,500 for us at North Union," said Nick Hajjar, the school's AD and head football coach. "We got it to the point where every kid — cheerleaders, football players, band members — can have at least a couple parents there as well as the opposing team. After that, it’s tough."

They've moved middle school volleyball matches to the high school to help the crunch there, too.

"We need to get the parents there the best we can," he said.

More: North Union Football: Wildcats see silver linings in changes this season

North Union is also going to digital tickets this fall.

"You just buy your ticket and you’ll come with a scan code or bar code on your phone, and we’ll have an iPad or a phone with a scanner and in you go," Hajjar said. "The safety value of that outweighs everything else. There are less workers needed at the gate and less people in front of people and less exchange of money and less touching of stuff."

The district will be live streaming home football games, and Hajjar said there will be a nominal fee of about $6 to watch. Links can be found on the North Union website and its social media feeds.

KMAC

For Cardington, Highland, Mount Gilead and Northmor in the Knox Morrow Athletic Conference, each visiting participant (player, cheerleader and band member) will get one voucher for a ticket to the varsity football game, while remaining seating will be determined by the home team's preference.

More: Cardington Football: Pirates turn to Tod Brininger as next head coach

More: Highland Football: Scots hoping to rebound for 2020

For other high school and junior high sports, visiting participants get two vouchers. Tickets for all fall events are $5.

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