The 8×10 sign on blue paper posted on the Crothersville High School locked gym door advertises a brief but strict message. There are three lines, but the key one reads "No fans allowed."
The sign also thanks the unaware for their cooperation.
One man who drove from Columbus stood near a couple that drove from Seymour with the intent of watching Tuesday night’s Crothersville-Trinity Lutheran volleyball match, but they retreated back to their cars.
Inside, volleyball was played, but before a completely empty house, minus players, coaches and essential personnel, such as scorekeepers and officials.
"Weird" is how the atmosphere feels, said Tigers freshman setter Makenna Newberry of spectators being banned. "I was sad about it."
No fans. That’s the Crothersville rule this fall for indoor sporting events during the age of the coronavirus: Social distancing to the extreme.
The Indiana High School Athletic Association gave each school the authority to set its own fan limit guidelines for how many spectators would be permitted at football games and other sporting events.
While some schools set ceilings of 250 on home and visitor sides, Crothersville, the small school south on Interstate 65, which doesn’t have football, chose to seal off its venue for the only indoor sport it fields in autumn.
Athletic Director Jacob Dunn said the call for this option was made because the COVID-19 pandemic situation was bewildering as the start of school approached.
"The virus was strong, and we didn’t know if we were going to have a shortened season or what," Dunn said. "We have had games canceled on us."
The only other fall sport Crothersville has is cross-country running for boys and girls.
Although there have been no positive tests among students and the Tigers have fulfilled their schedule obligations, other teams with virus issues have called off volleyball matches.
"We didn’t know what was going to happen," Dunn said.
On a night when Crothersville fell to 2-15 on the season by losing 25-2, 25-4, 25-6 to the powerhouse Cougars, ranked No. 1 in Class A, the bright red bleachers were pulled out from the wall only on one side of the gym. The other side was available for game film taping and for a couple of other people working. Team benches consisted of chairs staggered at odd angles in the attempt to keep players’ seats several feet apart.
Major professional sports leagues across North America have operated with athletes living in a so-called bubble, and they have pumped in artificial crowd noise for atmosphere.
High school athletes go home and try to stay virus-free on their own in a world that as of Thursday has catalogued more than 32 million cases and nearly 1 million deaths.
To make up for the lack of home supporters, the Crothersville volleyball team has excelled at times at generating its own noise, coach Carly Blevins said.
"It’s definitely different," she said. "We play for our fans. Sometimes, it’s harder to get motivated. In our first games, we were constantly yelling. That’s replacing the fans’ noise."
The hard slap sound of the ball being smashed to the floor on a kill could be heard with more clarity against Trinity Lutheran than when fans are shouting in the background. In some ways, it emphasized just how difficult making a return would be on a sharply hit shot.
Trinity Lutheran is playing a diverse schedule that includes short-notice makeup games because of other teams calling off matches due to the virus.
Coach Faith Wilder-Newland said the Cougars have not competed in other contests where fans were prohibited.
"I think every one of them have had some fans," she said. "I would never question anyone, though, whatever they felt they had to do to protect their kids."
Alexus James, a senior who is one of the Tigers’ top players, said Crothersville itself has not played on the road in gyms void of spectators.
"Everyone has fans," James said. Not having home fans, she said, "It’s kind of weird."
"Weird" seemed to be the word of choice among the players for not playing in front of home supporters at all.
James said the Tigers have not always kept up the responsibility of manufacturing their own noise.
"We have our games where we’re like, ‘Meh,’" James said.
Although fans are not permitted in person, Crothersville has arranged to stream its matches so parents, other relatives and students can still see the team play.
Junior Mariyah Kelshaw has her own off-site cheering section of several relatives, cousins and aunts included, who try to follow the team’s fortunes through technology and then discuss the competition with her.
"They ask, ‘How was it? How did you do?’" she said.
Newberry said her father and grandmother are avid watchers of the livestream production and also will engage her in analysis of what she saw.
"They tell me what I did wrong and what I did right," Newberry said.
Also tied in with the health issue swirling around COVID-19, which is still far from a settled matter, is employee work schedules, Dunn said.
"We don’t have the custodial help at night," he said.
Postgame cleanup, including spraying seats with cleansers to kill germs, comes with the territory of having fans in the seats, Dunn said. He worked his way through the bleachers and using tape, measured off seats 6 feet apart, concluding even if fans are allowed, the maximum attendance would be 48.
Still, although the plan is not firm yet, Dunn said the volleyball team is likely to experiment with spectators allowed in to two home games in early October with volunteers doing the cleaning.
That also would be a trial run for the winter sports season when Crothersville has boys and girls basketball playing and could potentially have fans on hand.
Dunn said not everyone may love the no-fan circumstance, but what was of paramount importance to him was minimizing the chance of athletes catching the virus and then having their season suspended.
"I wanted the kids to play," Dunn said.