Gov. Phil Murphy’s recent Executive Order No. 220 means high schools can once again allow parents or guardians to attend practices or competitions, effective immediately.
But if the Feb. 12 decision were up to Haddonfield Memorial High School Athletic Director Lefty Banos, it would have provided more notice.
“We were caught by surprise,” Banos said during a conversation with the Sun on Feb. 22. “We suddenly had to discover a whole new way to conduct winter sports. For us, it was figuring out how to adapt spectators to what we had with our livestreams, camera operating, and all these other logistical issues.”
Under pressure as the basketball season ends and the wrestling season nears, Banos and his fellow athletic directors worked out a plan of action.
“I’m glad the fans are allowed to come in, but I wish I had more time to figure things out,” he noted. “We were eventually able to figure out how many people, how many parents we could fit into the gym for the end of the season.”
Per Murphy’s order, up to two parents or guardians per athlete under 21 can attend indoor or outdoor youth sports practices and competitions. No other spectators are permitted, and even for parents or guardians, indoor events may never exceed 35 percent capacity or 150 people.
“As a father of four, I know how difficult it has been for many parents to not be able to see their kids participate in sports,” Murphy said. “With our metrics trending in the right direction, we feel comfortable taking this step and allowing parents back into youth sporting events.”
Banos related how he’s using only half of the school’s new gym to accommodate spectators and student athletes. One quarter of the bleachers are reserved for the visiting team and one quarter for the home team. On the opposite side, with distancing, Banos was only able to fit 35 sets of parents.
If every set of parents attends, the number won’t come close to the 150 person maximum, even after additional considerations for cheerleaders and members of the media.
Also included in Murphy’s order is the directive that spectators must follow the Department of Health’s sports activities guidance, including mask requirements, social distancing guidelines and staying home when sick. Spectators will be expected to cooperate with contact- tracing efforts.
“Parents have been dying to come to games, since they were able to be there in the fall,” Banos added. “And in the winter for the first month or so, they had to watch from home. As soon as the governor lifted the restrictions, parents have flocked to games when we had them.”
School districts are empowered to impose stricter guidelines and not allow spectators. They also can decide whether and when to implement the above policy regarding parents or guardians. But Banos remains hopeful no more setbacks will occur.
“It’s the most frustrating and trying season we’ve ever had in the winter,” he explained. “Trying to jam in all these games, rescheduling with COVID in other schools and the weather. We’re doing our best to accommodate fans now with a truncated schedule.”
As for the spring, Banos expects agreement on the same guidelines from the fall season permitting more attendees. A return to the outdoors will ease the burden of spacing spectators apart, with open air settings for baseball, lacrosse and track and field.
“Since we’re going to be outside, we expect 75 degrees and sunny every day,” he said. “This winter has been so bad, I don’t want to deal with the cold, wind and rain we have in early spring around here.”
The full text of Murphy’s executive order can be found here: https://nj.gov/infobank/eo/056murphy/pdf/EO-220.pdf.