Spectators return to gymnasium as winter sports take off

Junior Mia Diffley rehearses her headstand during cheer practice. (Photo by Margaret Zirwas)

After almost a month of empty bleachers and quiet games, Bexley fans have been allowed by the school to return to cheer on student-athletes at athletic events. 

Bexley Board of Education member Alissha Mitchell explained that this decision was made Monday, Jan. 11 by the district’s Executive Leadership Team, comprised of principals, the superintendent, director of operations, treasurer and chief academic officer. 

Mitchell explained that the team based their decision on three factors: the Ohio Department of Healthy county-level data, the COVID-19 rate per 100,000 in the school, and whether or not the Bexley Schools threshold of 12% absence from school due to illness had been surpassed. After a review of those factors, as well as guidelines given by Gov. Mike DeWine, the ELT felt that allowing limited numbers of spectators at games would be an appropriate decision, Mitchell said. 

The school’s athletic teams played without fans from Wednesday, Dec. 9 to Monday, Jan. 11. Dec. 9 is when winter sports were allowed to resume practicing and playing after a hiatus due to the spread of coronavirus. 

Once the return of spectators was approved, Director of Student and Staff Operations Harley Williams worked with a task force of parents who had experience in the medical field to come up with guidelines and restrictions for the spectators. 

Williams explained that each Bexley player was given two tickets for their immediate family, while each opposing player was given one ticket. He added that these fans were then separated between the levels of the bleachers, with opposing fans on the top level and Bexley fans on the bottom level.

“We also closed the bleachers off behind the teams’ benches so that fans wouldn’t be yelling and spraying droplets right on top of the players,” Williams said.

Williams also said that the school clears out the gymnasium between the varsity and JV games so that spectators can’t linger and stay for both and makes sure that the cheerleaders are spread out in the gym.

Coaches and players were excited to have fans back in the gym. Cheer captain Maddy Rogers explained that having crowds made a big difference for the cheerleading squad.

“I love having fans in the gym now,” Rogers said. “As cheerleaders, we’re the ones who are supposed to hype up the crowd, so having live fans has made games a lot more fun and interesting.”

The boys basketball team had their first game with spectators on Friday, Jan. 15, head varsity boys basketball coach Todd Phillips said. 

“I’m thrilled to have fans tonight,” Phillips said at the game. “I think it’ll have a definite positive impact.”

Phillips added that he thought it was especially important that the spectators being allowed in were going to be parents and close family members. 

“I think it’s important for both the player and their parents to have that experience as they play high school sports, particularly for our seniors,” Phillips said. 

Sophomore Sydnie Smith, who plays on the girls basketball team, played her first game with spectators Saturday, Jan. 16.

“I’m really excited that my parents are getting to see me play during my games,” Smith said at the game. “Having spectators has really boosted the energy inside the gym.”

Mitchell, who along with being a Board member is the mother of junior Chris Mitchell, a member of the boys basketball team, was able to attend the game on Jan. 15.

“I’m so happy to be here. He’s a junior, so we don’t have many more games left,” Mitchell said. “It’s nice to be able to actually see him play for his team.”

However, not all sports have been cleared to have spectators. Boys swim captain Ryan Kemp said that swim has had to continue to perform without spectators due to the small space of natatoriums. Kemp said that this continued lack of spectators has caused variations in the swim team’s execution based on how people react to the absence of crowds.

“On one side are the people who are able to swim better because there is less pressure from a live crowd, and on the other side are those who love people watching them and feed off of that pressure to do better than their best,” Kemp said. 

Many other sports experienced this during the time from Wednesday, Dec. 9 to Monday, Jan. 11 when sports were only allowed to practice and compete in the absence of fans. 

Smith said that without fans at games things felt weird, although the team tried to combat that. 

“We had to create our own energy because we didn’t have the fans and parents cheering us on,” Smith said. “Every little thing had to be celebrated to the max to keep the energy going.”

Phillips said that the lack of fans was noticeable, but his team worked hard to keep the energy up. 

“We’ve been doing all that we can to keep as much of that atmosphere of fans for ourselves,” Phillips said. 

This season has had a lot of changes, and Phillips said he’s unsure how it will impact the team’s future.

“I’m intrigued to see what it’s like when we have a packed gym again,” Phillips said. “I think that will take just as much getting used to as playing in front of nobody.”