New rules give schools flexibility on fan limits for winter sports –

Haslett student fans try to distract ChelseaÕs Riley Davis (32) during a free throw attempt right before halftime during the MHSAA girls basketball state quarterfinal at Fowlerville High School, Tuesday March 19, 2019 in Fowlerville. Haslett defeated Chelsea, 46-44, to advance to the state semifinals. (Ben Allan Smith | Ben Allan Smith |
Five winter high school sports start their seasons this week in Michigan, and the state’s governing body for prep athletics provided clarity Monday on what those games will look like from an attendance perspective.
Venues that hold fewer than 10,000 spectators will be limited to 20 percent capacity up to 250 people, and venues without fixed seating can hold no more than 100 fans for high school competitions. Pools are limited to 25 percent bather capacity, and bowling alleys can also hold up to 25 percent of their normal operating capacity.
Arenas that hold more than 10,000 fans will be allowed to host up to 500 spectators, but it is rare for winter high school teams to compete in venues of that size, with notable exceptions being the boys and girls basketball state finals at the Breslin Center and the individual wrestling state finals at Ford Field.
The spectator limits mirror those released by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services last week, which included a recommendation that schools cap attendance at two spectators per athlete to stop the spread of COVID-19.
While the MHSAA is not enforcing that recommendation, MHSAA spokesperson Geoff Kimmerly said schools have the option to limit fans to two per athlete, or fewer, if they see that as the best course of action.
The five winter contact sports to begin their seasons under these guidelines are boys and girls basketball, wrestling, ice hockey and competitive cheer.
Six winter sports — boys and girls bowling, boys and girls skiing, boys swimming and girls gymnastics — began their seasons in late January due to athletes’ ability to maintain six feet of separation during competition, and they’ll also fall under the new spectator limits, though their previous limits of 100 fans at non-fixed-seating venues and 250 at stadiums and arena are similar to the new measures.
Venues that seat fewer than 1,250 fans won’t be able to reach the 250-fan limit based on the 20-percent capacity restriction, so the two-spectators-per-athlete policy that was in place for most of the fall sports season will be the way to go for many small schools.
In Southwest Michigan, the Southwestern Athletic Conference is comprised of Class C and D schools, but athletic facilities at its member institutions vary greatly, so its 14 schools have agreed to use the two-tickets-per-athlete policy, at least for now.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, and it’s something we’re doing to start the season. We’ll look to probably reevaluate it down the line,” said Chris Abid, athletic director at Kalamazoo Hackett, where the Irish’s Harve Freeman Gymnasium seats almost 1,200. “The biggest factor when we made the decision last Friday was that we hadn’t gotten all the information from MHSAA or MDHHS, and we have 14 different schools in our conference that have varying gym sizes and varying capacities with their bleachers and set-ups for social distancing, so when we got started, we weren’t comfortable as a league saying we could do more than that seeing how the volleyball season played out.”
“I hope we can increase those numbers,” Abid added.
In the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference, the gymnasiums of the league’s nine member schools exceed the 1,250-seat threshold, so they’ll offer varsity basketball players four tickets, while JV and freshmen athletes will get two apiece.
While general admission tickets will be few and far between this basketball season, some schools, such as Vicksburg, with its 795 students and 3,000-seat gym, will start their ticket distribution with two per athlete, then open up the remaining passes to the public.
Boys and girls basketball and hockey teams games can start playing games Monday evening, while competitive cheer and wrestling squads can start competition on Friday.
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