Black Horse Pike district welcomes parents back into the stands

Recent executive order paves way for select fans to attend games

MATTHEW SHINKLE/The Sun

The 2020-2021 basketball season across South Jersey has been a different one for all involved.

For the first few weeks of the season, games took place in relatively empty gyms, with the sound of squeaking shoes and shouting coaches being all that could be heard during games. Spirited fans were left to virtually watch from home.

With the season winding down, parents will at least be able to watch the final few games of COVID-shortened schedules that will come to a close as quickly as they began.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association issued a statement on Feb. 12, following Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order limiting the number of parents and other guests who can attend indoor and outdoor sporting events.

“The NJSIAA welcomes the governor’s executive order, which provides an opportunity for limited spectators to attend high-school sporting events,” said the association in a release.

“We hope this order marks another positive step in the return to play. At this time, we urge parents to give our member schools time to review the governor’s order and determine both overall feasibility and a specific process for increasing occupancy as outlined.”

The Black Horse Pike Regional School District, which includes the Timber Creek, Highland and Triton Regional high schools, wasted no time formulating a plan so parents can watch their kids play as the season comes to an end.

Per the state, teams are allowed to admit two parents per player  from the home team only, a directive the district will follow, according to multiple officials.

But Timber Creek Vice Principal in Charge of Athletics Frank Torcasio said  Timber Creek and Highland will also admit parents from both teams if the two opponents playing each other are from within the district. Parents will be screened before being allowed into the gym, according to Torcasio.

“They’ll be asked the standard COVID questions, get a temperature check and as long as they pass both of those. they’ll be allowed in,” Torcasio explained. “And of course, they’ll have to wear a mask at all times as well.”

Timber Creek boys basketball head coach Rich Bolds said the absence of a crowd at games was an adjustment for his team in the first few weeks of the season. He is eager to get a crowd back as the season winds down.

“It was strange and tough for the kids; I think a lot of them had to learn how to motivate themselves to get up and play without the crowd there,” said Bolds.

“Obviously, having the parents in the stands provides that extra dose of energy … Them not being there made it a little more tough. We took that as an opportunity to focus on playing and supporting each other, but now that parents are allowed to come back, it’ll be another added boost.”

Highland girls basketball head coach Jay Senft said it’s been a different season of basketball until recently.

“Not having fans in the gym and not having the kids’ parents there to support them has been tough on the kids, and it’s been real quiet,” he said.   “You can hear absolutely everything and it doesn’t feel natural for the game of basketball. They like having their friends and family there, so it’s been an adjustment for sure.”

Some teams, such as Highland, held senior nights earlier this season, prior to the recent announcement by the NJSIAA, to ensure seniors were  recognized in the event their seasons were cut short or cancelled entirely. Highland parents were invited to attend senior night and participate in a small pregame ceremony.

With the recent change in the state’s high-school sports attendance limits, other schools that have not yet hosted senior nights, such as Timber Creek and Triton, will be able to more easily welcome parents for remaining home games.

“For the kids to be able to look in the stands and see their parents, I’m sure it will help to make things feel a little bit more normal,” said Triton girls basketball coach Andrew Canzanese.

“Our program definitely has a lot of people to thank for making this season and everything possible,” he added. “From the athletic directors to administrators and officials, everything’s helped to make this season possible.”