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High school programs ask fans to help save fall season

There will be no full houses this fall at Arkansas high school football stadiums.

Instead of seeing sold-out crowds, there will be empty rows in the stands as well as arrows pointing which way to enter and exit concession-stand areas.

The Arkansas Department of Health released guidelines for large outdoor venues for school-sponsored sports Friday, the same day that Gov. Asa Hutchinson gave the Arkansas Activities Association approval to start the 2020 regular season.

Guidelines include reducing seating capacity to 66% of the venue’s original capacity; keeping at least 6 feet of social distancing; face coverings or masks required for people ages 10 and older; and posting signs at the venue advising the public to not enter if they have had a fever, known exposure to someone with covid-19 in the past 14 days and/or if they are 65 years of age or older.

The state’s directive was important enough for Pulaski Academy Coach Kevin Kelley and Bryant Coach Buck James to get on a stadium mic before their teams’ scrimmage Tuesday to remind the fans of the guidelines. Kelley said he does not want to see fall sports athletes lose their season like the spring sports athletes did because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was one of the most heartbreaking things in my 28 years of coaching,” Kelley said after Tuesday’s scrimmage. “Every little thing we can do to not go down that route again, we want to do. Not just for football, but for volleyball, for cross country, for tennis and for golf. “The crowd can help us. For the first time ever, the crowd can really help us keep us playing.

“They can help us by doing what’s right. We wanted to speak from the heart. I thought Buck did, too, he was fantastic.”

At halftime of the scrimmage, Kelley and James met to see how their respective fan bases were adjusting to the new guidelines.

“This looks like what we wanted it to look like,” Kelley said. “Everybody thought that both sides did as well as they could. If that’s what it takes for us to have a football game, then that’s what we need to do.”

The 2020 high school football season begins Aug. 27 with two high-profile matchups, Joe T. Robinson at Pulaski Academy and Fort Smith Southside at Fort Smith Northside.

Greenwood doesn’t have a home game until Sept. 11 against Fort Smith Northside, but Athletic Director Dustin Smith is already working toward that night.

Smith-Robinson Stadium, the Bulldogs’ home, seats 3,400, but the capacity will likely be reduced to 1,800, Smith said. A ticketing plan is being worked on, but Smith said that Greenwood expects to pre-sell tickets with no walk-up sales.

“We’re excited to be able to play,” Smith said. “We’re going to do the best that we can to have a safe environment for our players and our fans.”

The plan for 6A-West Conference teams, which Greenwood is a part of, is to have an allotment of tickets for visiting schools. That number has not been decided as of Wednesday, Smith said.

Nashville Athletic Director Bunch Nichols saw the Scrappers hold their scrimmage Tuesday against Hot Springs Lakeside at Scrapper Stadium in Nashville. He said that it was a different experience as an administrator because of the guidelines.

“You can tell people all you want to about the guidelines,” Nichols said. “Some people will listen to you. Some of them won’t listen.

“I want to play.”

The Scrappers open the season Aug. 28 against Texarkana (Texas) Pleasant Grove. Nichols said Scrapper Stadium seats 2,400, but with reduced capacity he expects to sell 1,200 on the home side and 500 tickets to the visiting schools this season.

Nashville will live-stream its games on the NFHS Network. Nichols said it’s an option for fans who can’t make it to the games.

Nashville also hosts Joe T. Robinson and Arkadelphia this season, which typically bring in large crowds. When Nashville hosted Robinson in 2016, the school made $14,000 from gate receipts, Nichols said.

The covid-19 situation will force schools to take a hit with their athletic budgets, Nichols said. Nashville’s athletic budget for the 2019-20 school year was $40,000, according to the school district’s budget report.

“It’s going to affect not only our budget, but every school will have their budget affected,” Nichols said.

The Salt Bowl, the annual rivalry game between Benton and Bryant, is scheduled for Aug. 29 at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

Capacity for the game has been reduced to 12,000 spectators, which is just over 22% of War Memorial Stadium’s capacity of 54,120.

Salt Bowl founder Shane Broadway said that while Tuesday’s Salt Bowl announcement was an important one, there’s still work to do among players and coaches involved from Benton and Bryant.

“We’re not there yet,” Broadway said. “We’ve announced our intentions to play the game. It’s still on everyone to do their part so we don’t have a major spike in cases.

“There’s no guarantee in a middle of a pandemic that we’ll play this game.”

More News

High school football stadium guidelines

*The Arkansas Department of Health released guidelines Friday for large outdoor venue plans for school-sponsored sports. Schools have been asked to submit venue plans regarding attendance and what they will do to help limit the spread of covid-19:

— Venue capacity should be determined by having all spectators maintain 6-feet physical distance from other spectators at all times. Single-household family groups may sit together but 6-feet physical distance must be maintained from all other groups or individuals.

*Bleacher seating should be restricted such that every other row is unoccupied.

*Standing room only/ additional chair seating should be marked on the ground to provide 6-feet physical distance between spectators or groups.

*NOTE: Though the large outdoor and indoor venue directives allow up to 66%, the above requirements for physical distancing may put actual capacity between 25-50%.

— Face coverings are required for all persons present, except for children under the age of 10 years old.

*Due to increased production of respiratory droplets during yelling and cheering, face coverings should remain in place even when attendees are seated and maintaining required physical distancing. NOTE: Face coverings may be removed in order to consume food or beverage but should be in place immediately afterwards.

— Areas where lines may form (entrances, exits, concessions, restrooms, etc.) shall be marked with cones,

“X’s”, or other visual cues to promote physical distance of 6-feet. These lines should also be monitored to ensure physical distancing is maintained.

— Concessions shall comply with the current directive regarding resuming restaurant dine-in operations

*Customer self-service condiment bars and buffets are prohibited

*Consider reducing/adjusting menu offerings to promote expedient flow through concessions and reduce congestion in concession stand lines.

*Signs must be posted at all entrances advising the public not to enter if

*They have fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, or loss of taste or smell.

*They have had known exposure to someone with covid-19 in the past 14 days.

— Signs must be posted at all entrances advising the public that they may wish to refrain from entering if

*They are 65 years of age or older.

*They have underlying health conditions including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, severe obesity, asthma, or weakened immunity.

— The facility, including restrooms, shall be cleaned and disinfected as needed during the event. Frequently touched surfaces shall be cleaned periodically during the course of the event. Products with an EPA-approved emerging viral pathogen claims are expected to be effective against covid-19. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for these products.

— The use of live-streaming or radio/television broadcasting should be used and promoted when possible.

SOURCE Arkansas Department of Health

Pulaski Academy Coach Kevin Kelley wears a mask during Tuesday’s scrimmage. Coaches around the state are working within coronavirus guidelines in hopes of saving the season.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Justin Cunningham)

Hand sanitizer was provided for customers at a concession stand Tuesday night during the Pulaski Academy-Bryant scrimmage at Joe B. Hatcher Stadium in Little Rock.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Justin Cunningham)

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