Gov. Wolf updates guidance to allow some high school fans, with mitigation limits in place

The (Carlisle) Sentinel (TNS)
Gov. Tom Wolf

Fans and parents have reason to cheer before the first tee is placed in the ground and the first ball is snapped.

Gov. Tom Wolf quietly updated guidelines for youth sports across the state Wednesday, partly lifting a ban on spectators at high school games this fall. That ban was put in place in June to combat the spread of the coronavirus. No announcement was made before the change online.

The new guidance will allow spectators at outdoor competition, but the state will not allow more than 250 total people at an event. That number includes players, coaches, officials, trainers, media, fans and perhaps bands and cheerleaders.

"Spectators may attend sporting events, but count towards the statewide large gathering limitations (25 or fewer people indoors, 250 or fewer outdoors) and must follow the Universal Face Covering Order and social distancing guidance when arriving, attending, and departing the event," the updated guidance reads.

That is a change from the June 10 guidelines that stated: "Sports-related activities at the PK-12 level are limited to student athletes, coaches, officials and staff only. Band and cheer are also allowed in a sports setting, but individuals involved in such activities count towards gathering limitations and must comply with face covering order and social distancing guidelines. Visitors and spectators are prohibited from attending in-person sports-related activities.”

Indoor events are still capped at 25 total people, which presents a challenge for girls' volleyball, the only fall indoor sport played by the majority of York-Adams League teams. At that number, it will be difficult to even hold the competition, much less include even one spectator.

Those numbers could be smaller if a facility has a max capacity that isn't already double 250 or 25. The 50% capacity limitation is still in place, but most, if not all, outdoor venues have a max capacity well beyond 500 people.

It will also not be an easy fit for many football games, where some large schools can have rosters near 100 players. Games between small teams might have room for a handful of socially distanced spectators. Larger teams that limit how many players they bring — perhaps excluding ninth-grade and junior-varsity players from being on the sidelines as they traditionally are — could also increase room for fans, bands and cheerleaders.

The real winners are the remaining outdoor sports — soccer, field hockey, cross country, girls' tennis and golf, which have much smaller rosters and typically smaller fan bases.

The guidelines still require all fans wear face masks indoors, and they must also wear masks unless they can adequately maintain social distancing.

The York-Adams preseason officially began Monday with football heat acclimation. The league's first golf match is Sept. 8, followed by girls' tennis on Sept. 9. The Y-A football games begin Sept. 17-18. The other sports (field hockey, soccer, girls' volleyball and cross country) start Sept. 24-25.

The new guidance should make it possible for the parents of the athletes to attend at least some high school events this fall. That had been a controversial issue across the state.