Attendance guidelines for high school events relaxed

By Maurice Patton

With Governor Bill Lee’s announcement Thursday that Executive Order 74 will be suspended Monday, attendance at statewide high school athletic events will revert to the pandemic restrictions put in place by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association leading up to the start of winter sports.

Local officials can’t wait.

“Tickets will be sold to any and everybody that wants to attend, as long as bleacher capacity does not exceed 30 percent,” Maury County Public Schools athletics director Chris Poynter said. “We’ll go away from the four-ticket allocation (per participant) to 30 percent attendance for all schools.

Effective Monday, schools are encouraged to limit fan attendance to one-fourth to one-third of facility seating capacity, with bleachers marked to facilitate safe social distancing. Cheerleaders and dance teams will be allowed to attend and perform at games.

“Cheerleaders being able to return is huge,” Poynter said. “I’m ecstatic for all those cheerleaders, especially those seniors that have worked so hard. They’ll be able to complete their senior year, barring a spike. Individual schools will have slight modifications they may apply, but for home games, cheerleaders will get to cheer. I’m excited about that.”

The lifting of the more strenuous restrictions resulted from improved COVID-19 statistics across the state.

“We’re proud that our member schools have been taking steps to follow the Governor’s orders and limit the spread of the virus,” TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress said Thursday. “It is vitally important that we continue to be smart and safe in our activities, wear a mask, wash our hands and practice social distancing at every athletic contest.”

Gov. Lee’s previous executive order, which went into effect on Jan. 20, had limited basketball and wrestling event attendance to parents, grandparents, teachers, school administrators, medical personnel and working media.

“Our case counts have dropped around 60 percent (and) our hospitalization counts have fallen about 40 percent,” Lee said during a 97-second video posted Thursday on Twitter.

“By making smart decisions like wearing a mask, keeping your distance and limiting gatherings around the holidays, your efforts have made a significant difference in fighting COVID-19. We’ve worked to follow the data in every decision we’ve made … The data now reflects rapidly falling numbers. Now, because of that data, we’re lifting those restrictions on Monday.”

Pernell Knox, athletics director at Columbia Academy, said 450 tickets will be sold for basketball games at Anderson Fieldhouse, which holds 1,250.

“I’ve talked to my principal and my president, and we’re in agreement that (since) the TSSAA is allowing it, we can go about our business as we have,” Knox said. “We’re going to get back to like we were, with cheerleaders and students admitted.”

Childress also said an announcement regarding state basketball tournament sites will likely be made within the next week. Sites for wrestling state tournaments were set earlier this month, with duals to be held Feb. 6 at Centennial, Independence and Nolensville high schools and Mill Creek Middle School in Williamson County and individual championships scheduled for Feb. 18-20 at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

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