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More fans in the stands at Pa. high school sporting events

Some midstate schools allow spectators beyond state COVID-19 mitigation recommendations

  • Julia Agos/WITF
The Keystone Oaks football field is the home of the Golden Eagles; one of many teams whose fall seasons are up in the air.

 Kiley Koscinski / WESA

The Keystone Oaks football field is the home of the Golden Eagles; one of many teams whose fall seasons are up in the air.

(Harrisburg) – Several school districts across Central Pa. have decided to allow more spectators at sporting events — beyond Governor Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 pandemic recommendations on crowd size.

Eastern Lancaster County School District and Altoona Area School District are among those allowing up to 33% capacity in the stands.

In Altoona, that means up to 3,400 people could attend a football game at Mansion Park Stadium in Blair County, according to the Associated Press.

That is well beyond the governor’s recommendation of no more than 250 people at outdoor events and 25 people indoors.

After a U.S. District Judge William Stickman, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, recently ruled Wolf’s pandemic restrictions violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association said the organization would not stand in the way of school districts “taking an alternative approach” in allowing more fans in the stands.

Mellissa Mertz, the PIAA’s associate executive director, said districts should consult with their solicitor when deciding how many spectators to allow.

The group has asked the governor from some wiggle room in his pandemic recommendations on crowd size, arguing fans can still be socially distanced in school gymnasiums or aquatic centers.

“We’ve asked for 25% (capacity). Give us 25% and we can make it work,” Mertz said. “Its difficult, essentially, when teams are trying to have senior night, recognizing those seniors who aren’t going to have another year.”

Mertz said some districts are forgoing line judges and having players on the bench wait out in the hall to comply with the 25-person indoor limit.

“The indoor limitation discriminates against girls’ volleyball and water polo. These sports can hardly operate under their normal process having all their teammate there, game officials and administration because of that small number,” she said.

Governor Wolf, who recommended postponing youth sports until January 2021 to slow the spread of the coronavirus, has asked schools to voluntarily maintain the COVID-19 mitigation limits on crowd sizes.

Schools like Quakertown Community High School and the North Penn School District have complied with the recommendation. The women’s volleyball teams played last week with no fans, while only teams and referees were allowed in the facility.

“(Stickman’s) ruling was not a blanket end to the mitigation orders put in place to protect residents of the commonwealth from the deadly COVID-19 virus and we must all stay the course to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities,” the Department of Education said in a letter.

Earlier this month, Wolf vetoed House Bill 2787, which would have given school districts exclusive power over how many spectators to allow at sporting events. The GOP-controlled General Assembly fell short of overriding the veto last week.

The PIAA maintains schools should have the final say on how many spectators to allow.

But, some had to cancel sporting events last week – like the Carlisle Area and Governor Mifflin school districts — after cases of COVID-19 were confirmed. The districts did not reveal who contracted the virus in compliance with HIPPA rules.

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