When Seymour, Brownstown Central, Trinity Lutheran, Crothersville and Medora open fall sports competition Saturday, the rules of engagement will be the same on the fields of play, but the rules for spectators will be different.
Fans attending the games will be subject to many of the same daily life constraints imposed since the eruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus requiring social distancing in the stands — indoors and out — face masks being worn and limits on the number of people who can purchase tickets.
Although golf teams have begun play, other sports will open seasons Saturday and early in the week.
Seymour will host its first home event Saturday afternoon when the boys soccer team meets Jasper.
"We are going to have soccer with up to 250 people," Seymour Athletic Director Kirk Manns said. "We will control the traffic flow."
By that, he means people won’t be moving around mingling. Seymour drafted its attendance protocol with the advice of Jackson County Health Department officials.
"Our local health department has been great," Manns said.
Neither high school sports administrators nor government officials have contended with such a virulent, widespread disease in American lifetimes. The disease has afflicted more than 20 million people around the world and more than 5.3 million in the United States. American deaths from the coronavirus were surpassing 170,000 Thursday, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracking system.
The Indiana High School Athletic Association chose not to postpone the start of fall sports, although many other states have done so as those places wrestled with the issue of reopening schools for in-person instruction. Schools in and around Seymour have reopened.
Through today, the IHSAA protocols did not allow for any spectators at practice games. Seymour High School chose to cancel preseason football scrimmages. Brownstown Central was scheduled to meet Jennings County on Friday night in Brownstown for a scrimmage in an empty stadium.
"Under guidance from the Indiana Department of Education and health experts, only essential personnel are allowed at the scrimmages on Friday," said Jason Wille, spokesman for the IHSAA. "Beginning Saturday, when Phase III of that guidance begins, allowing any spectators at events will be at the complete discretion of the schools."
On Wednesday night, bearing in mind an outbreak of positive tests for the virus could torpedo plans, Brownstown football coach Reed May said the scrimmage was a go.
"As of now," he said. "We want to play. You’re going to have hiccups along the way."
The Braves football team was forced into a temporary summer vacation from practice because a member of the team tested positive, and some other Brownstown athletes were in quarantine as of Thursday.
However, the location of the stadium allows for fans to line Elm Street and glimpse the action, and it was expected many football supporters would gather outside the fences.
"You can see," May said.
Seymour is scheduled to open the regular season Aug. 21 at home against South Dearborn, and Manns said the Owls will be able to accommodate 250 people in the home stands and another 250 fans in the visiting stands.
"Spectators will be masked during the event," he said.
That includes at indoor events such as volleyball, too, which will allow 250 fans per side at matches in the gym.
"We’ll control the traffic flow," Manns said.
Brownstown Central had some athletes in quarantine due to the virus this week, but no teams had to cancel games, said Athletic Director Mark DeHart.
"Everything is still on," he said.
The Braves host their first home game of any kind Thursday when the volleyball team meets Bloomington North.
"We’re maxed out at 500 people," DeHart said. "We won’t have to worry about turning anyone away."
Plans are to make regular announcements during games reminding spectators to social distance in the stands and to keep their masks on, he said.
Trinity Lutheran Athletic Director Michael McBride said his school’s plan for soccer attendance is to allow fans to bring their own chairs and space them out all the way around the field.
Meanwhile, Seymour announced Thursday it will not play a freshman football schedule this fall, only junior varsity and varsity.
The Seymour volleyball team went into quarantine because of a positive coronavirus test, and its first four matches on the schedule were postponed.
Also, the tennis team was supposed to open against Waldron on Monday, but Waldron does not have enough players to field a team this season.