The lucky fans who are actually allowed in to watch high school football this season should plan for plenty of changes once they’re actually in the stadium.
With schools limited to two fans per athlete for each game, the cheering sections may sound a bit more subdued than usual. Fans can follow the games online with NFHS Network and MHSAA.TV streaming high school games.
From masked cheerleaders to paperless rosters to limited concessions, the traditional Friday-night football experience will be anything but traditiional.
“It is going to be weird, but we are playing … that’s the most important part,” Rockford athletic director Cole Andrews said. “It’s going to be unique, that’s for sure. All the kids in the program are pumped up and ready to roll. Kids are participating.”
But some of the traditional features of Friday-night football, like concessions, may see some changes.
“There is a lot of disinformation out there, but to be honest there really aren’t a lot of restrictions as far as concessions at a high school football game,” said Steven Ellis, the senior environmental health specialist at the Saginaw County Health Department. “ADs have been calling me, thinking they have to do things like only sell pre-packaged items or asking if they can even open their concession stands.
“Essentially, they have to follow the same restrictions that restaurants do. They may have to change some of their processes, but they should not have to change or limit their menus.”
The changes follow Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders and local health department rules. They include:
Masks for concession volunteers
Social distancing for customers
No communal condiments
No indoor concessions
Volunteer health screening
“Like 95 percent of high school sports, a lot of the decisions are local,” Michigan High School Athletic Association spokesman John Johnson said. “It’s a local county health department issue. We suggest best practices, but schools can always have stronger standards.
“Even if the local health department says they don’t have to, some schools are going to pre-packaged items for concessions. You might see a sealed bag of popcorn instead of something popped fresh. Not many people are going to use fountain drinks.”
At Rockford, for instance, fans attending the Rams’ season-opener against Jenison should expect to find pre-packaged items.
“We will only have pre-packaged stuff like candy bars, bottled water and things like that,” Andrews said. “We will not prepare anything. Every bottle will have a cap on it.”
Freeland begins the season against rival Frankenmuth, and athletic director Jeff Bell expects to have a regular concession menu. But he may not have many rosters.
To limit the number of “touching” interactions, Freeland will print fewer rosters. Instead, they will offer fans a QR code to use with their phones.
“Our advice to ADs was to limit the touches as much as possible,” Johnson said. “That includes using digital or pre-paid tickets so there isn’t any money exchanges at the game. There’s a lot of talk about going without paper programs or rosters. The goal is to avoid touching items as much as possible.”
Fans going to Freeland’s home game against Frankenmuth can expect to use their phones to download the rosters.
“We will try to use that scan code as much as possible,” Bell said. “We will some paper rosters, but we’ll try to limit them. We will ask fans to download the roster if they want one. It could be a pain because people will have to stand in line and scan the code.
“But with a limited number of fans, it shouldn’t be that bad. Even with concessions, it’s a limited crowd so it’s not a big deal to begin with.”
Sideline cheerleaders and football players are allowed, but marching bands, dance teams, pom teams, color guards, flag corps and choral groups are not part of the “new” Friday-night tradition.
In Regions 6 and 8, covering the Upper Peninsula and the Northern Lower Peninsula area, outdoor events are allowed 500 fans or 25-percent capacity, whichever is lower. But for the rest of the state, teams are allowed two fans per participant.
Participants include players, managers, administrators, coaches, officials and cheerleaders. Schools also have the option of banning fans entirely.
“It may not have as many people as usual, but with two tickets per participant, you could have up to 300 fans for bigger schools,” Johnson said. “You could also see teams bringing more players up from the freshman or JV teams to be on the sidelines, especially with our new five-quarter rule, which gives teams that option.”
The game itself may look different. Players will have more room to social distance on the sidelines, with the team sideline expanded to the area between the 10-yard lines instead of between the 20-yard lines.
And all participants, like the spectators, will have to wear masks, although it is optional for officials. PA announcers are allowed to take their masks off while speaking into the microphone.
“It will look and sound different,” Andrews said. “No band, no dance, no nothing. There are sideline cheerleaders with masks on, but there isn’t any stunting or tumbling.
“It’s going to be different, but I think people are just happy it’s back in some form. We’re playing football on Friday night. It’s a great feeling.”
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