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Schools seek more fans in stands

Staff photo / R. Michael Semple Football fans social distance and wear masks at the Niles McKinley vs. Struthers football game Sept. 18. Several Valley schools have received variances from the state to allow more spectators for sporting events. Niles schools did not seek a variance.

Seven Mahoning County school districts and three Trumbull County districts have sought variances from the state to allow more spectators in their gymnasiums and stadiums.

They are among the hundreds of school districts across the state that sought variances from the Ohio Department of Health allowing them to increase the capacity of seats in their stadiums and gymnasiums, so parents and other loved ones can see the games.

On Aug. 19, Gov. Mike DeWine ordered that stadiums and gymnasiums could only fill 15 percent of seating capacity, unless a variance was obtained from ODH. Schools and districts seeking to have more usable seats in their stadiums and other facilities had to turn in plans to their local health departments for review. Once approved at the local level, the plans then were sent to the state to be approved or rejected.

The spectator order prohibits anyone other than family members or individuals close to athletes, with final decisions on those people left up to schools.

Local schools, in general, asked to allow their student athletes to obtain between two and four tickets to attend games. Spectators must be 6 feet apart, wear masks, and comply with social distancing requirements.

VALLEY VARIANCES

Trumbull County school districts that applied for variances are Champion, Hubbard Exempted Village and Victory Christian School in Liberty. All were approved.

In Mahoning County, West Branch, Poland, Jackson Milton, Western Reserve, South Range, Austintown and Boardman requested variances. Only Austintown’s request has not been approved.

Champion schools Superintendent John Grabowski requested and received a variance that would allow each of the district’s high school senior players to purchase four tickets per game. Other players grades 9-11, are able to purchase two tickets each. A total of 136 seats will be available for family and supporters of the football teams.

Senior cheerleaders and senior band members also are able to purchase four tickets each. Band members and cheerleaders in grades 9-11 can purchase two tickets each. There will be a 306-ticket capacity in the stadium for these groups. Visitors are provided 110 tickets.

Champion’s stadium has a fixed capacity of 2,676. Fifteen percent of that is 401 tickets.

“We need 542 tickets to accommodate all of our ticket allotment,” Grabowski wrote in his request.

Victory Christian School, located in Liberty’s Pleasant Valley Church, received permission to expand the capacity of its gymnasium from 38 spectators to 65.

It is a K-12 school with a total student population of 113. It requested a variance for volleyball games played in its 252-seat capacity gymnasium. At 15 percent capacity, the school only would have had been able to have 38 parents in the auditorium.

It was looking to assign four tickets for each of its student athletes and two tickets per athlete for opposing teams.

“Having parents at the games is very important to our players,” Sarah Knepper, athletic director, said. “I had some of our girls say if they could not have their families at the games it would not be worth playing. They did not want to play for empty bleachers and chairs.”

Volleyball season began on Aug. 28 and will last through mid-October.

The school has chosen not to use its bleachers.

The school designed family pods of chairs, so family members can be together, but at least six feet away from other families.

Principal Colleen McCullough said the school only requested variances for its girls volleyball teams.

“We will see if there is a need during basketball season,” McCullough said.

Hubbard Exempted Village received permission to allow an additional 56 parents to the 720 already allowed in the 5,000 fixed seat stadium based on the ODH requirements.

The school district sought the additional seating for parents of senior band members, who will be allowed in the stadium for the halftime shows during the football season.

“We want to allow as many parents a chance to see their children play as possible,” Kevin Hogue, athletic director, said. “They will be inside the stadium for under 30 minutes and will not come in contact with any other people other than the other senior band parents.”

The school district will allow parents of seniors the opportunity to join the band for more games by using folding chairs to continue to practice social distancing. Band parents will be able to go into the end zones to watch their students while standing six feet apart. At no time will they get closer than 15 feet of the performers.

They must leave immediately after the performances.

NOT AUSTINTOWN

The ODH rejected Austintown’s application to increase the seat capacity from 1,500 seats to 1,650.

“This is disappointing,” Jim Penk, athletic director of Austintown Local School District, said. “Since everyone has been able to come out of their caves after schools were forced to end in-building classes last March, everyone wanted tickets to attend games.”

“The state is not seeing the value of the extreme,” he said. “Football is very important in this community. I am trying to do the right thing in the beginning, rather than apologize later.”

West Branch was able to increase the number of seats available from 550 to 610.

In his request to the state, athletic director Mike Helm emphasized there is enough room in the stadium for an additional 110 seats while maintaining sufficient social distancing.

“The additional spectators will be placed around the fenced areas,” Helm wrote.

Acting Superintendent Micki Egli emphasized high school sports are very important to families living in the rural areas of Mahoning county.

“Generally, most of the community comes out to games,” she said.

Poland requested to increase the seating in its stadium from 863 to 983.

“We were able to get a 2 percent bump in the number of seats available for our spectators,” athletic director Brian Banfield, of Poland Seminary High School, said. “We asked for an increase because Poland residents have been very supportive of all of our sports, not just football.

Poland has had eight soccer games, four lower level football games, and two varsity games at the stadium this year.

“It is nice to get as many people in the stadium as we can,” Banfield said. “We have a big high school football team and a good-sized band football team. The Howland community comes out to support our athletes, band members , and cheerleaders — regardless of the sport.”

Residents that cannot get into the stadium can live stream the games.

rsmith@tribtoday.com

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