HOT SEAT: New Pal senior campaigns to let students attend football games

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Parents and other supporters of the New Palestine High School football team try to maintain distance at the school's scrimmage on Aug. 15. Until this week, no tickets were being made available to students for the team's opening game tonight (Friday, Aug. 28). (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

NEW PALESTINE — For three years, Addi Jones waited patiently with anticipation to be a senior and help lead the student cheering section on Friday nights at New Palestine High School football games.

Due to COVID-19, students like Addi may not even get a ticket to see the games.

Health officials have advised area schools they can only allow a maximum of 500 people to attend games at the outdoor stadiums, where social distancing and face coverings are required. While most schools decided early on to set aside the vast majority of tickets for football and cheerleader parents, nearly all the districts also set aside some of the tickets for students.

Southern Hancock officials recently sent out word that no one from the student body, including seniors, would be allowed into their home games, including tonight’s game against Brebeuf Jesuit. District officials have since altered their stance slightly after Addi, 17, started a petition on social media requesting officials let some students into the game.

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“I just felt that wasn’t right, not letting some kids go to the game” Addi said. “I felt like they should do something to at least let a few in, and I thought a petition was a peaceful and respectful way to do it.”

Addi also sent a letter to the school board and administration expressing her concerns. After getting over 250 signatures, Addi received a reply from Superintendent Lisa Lantrip, telling her that while administrators appreciated her enthusiasm and wished all students could be let in, no students would be allowed for now at the games because of safety concerns.

However, the district relented Monday, saying a small number of seniors will have at least a chance to see the game in person.

New Palestine athletic director Al Cooper said that with their capacity capped at 500 spectators for a team that has won back-to-back state championships, their primary concern was allowing football and cheerleader family members and corporate sponsors into the games. But after talking with Addi and seeing the support, district officials realized they needed to also think about the students and make some tickets available to them.

“I can say that we will now let a limited amount of seniors into the game,” Cooper said. “Just how many that will be, will be determined on our ticket availability.”

In essence, it means senior students will get any leftover tickets not claimed by football families, corporate sponsors or the visiting team’s fans.

Part of Addi’s plan shared on social media with district officials called for tickets to be available to seniors only; wearing face coverings the whole time; no congregating in common areas; no food or drinks, just water; tickets purchased in advance for assigned seats, and a zero tolerance for failure to abide by rules.

“If I get a ticket and get in, I will abide by the rules, and if I see somebody not doing what is right, I’ll call them out,” Addi said. “We’ve got to do what’s best for everyone’s safety, but we should be allowed to go to the games.”

Addi has been told there may be an estimated 30 tickets available for senior students to vie for on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Other schools in the county are also navigating the restrictions.   

Eastern Hancock had its home opener last week and set aside 85 tickets for students. The plan was to allow as many students to attend as possible.

“Students, that’s why we’re here is for the students, and we wanted to include them in what we’re doing,” Eastern Hancock athletic director Aaron Spaulding said. “We want to give our kids as normal as possible an experience in this climate.”

Spaulding noted there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to determining who and how many should attend because people are still learning as they go how best to handle large crowds during a pandemic.

Eastern Hancock officials took down the names of all the students allowed into their stadium so they could do contract tracing should it become necessary.

“We’ll add a few more safety measures and get better at it after learning from the experience this past Friday,” Spaulding said, after some students didn’t adhere to the safety guidelines, taking off their masks and getting too close.

Mt. Vernon won’t have its first home game until Sept. 4, but it, too, made plans to let students attend.

“I am capped at 250 people per side, but we can’t fit 250 people with social distancing on the visitors side, so we’ll cap 65 people on the visiting side,” Mt. Vernon athletic director Brandon Ecker said.

Right now, Mt. Vernon officials are looking at having an estimated 40 extra tickets, hopefully more, available for seniors to win in some kind of a lottery.

“Obviously, we would love to have our students there, but with the circumstances being what they are, we really aren’t sure just yet how many we can fit,” Ecker said. “We’ll only be at about 10% capacity.”

Ecker, like the other athletic directors, noted they are limited to what county health officials are asking them to do in order to keep everyone safe. That has been the frustrating part for students and community members to understand, particularly when nearby Marion County is allowing a maximum capacity of 1,000 people per high school football game.

Last weekend, a photo on social media showed students shoulder-to-shoulder in the stands during a Cathedral vs. Westfield high school football game.

“I really do think this may change and be a different conversation every single week,” Ecker said. “This is just part of it and something we have to deal with.”

Officials with Greenfield-Central, who won’t have a football game until the fourth week of the season, plan to first share a link with players’ parents that will be used to obtain tickets. Then, a few days before the game, they’ll share the link with students, then the community, to get as many fans in as they can, athletic director Jared Manning said.

“After the parents, we we feel our students are an integral part of what we do here, and we would like to give some of them at least an opportunity to purchase tickets for the events,” Manning said.

Still, Manning understands why Southern Hancock officials originally made the decision to not allow students due to the work and detail that will have to go into student contract tracing should someone become ill or test positive for the novel coronavirus.

“We could sit here all day and make up arguments for it one way or the other,” Manning said. “This is just one of those things none of us have gone into before, and we’re all trying to do what best fits for our facilities and our communities.”

Cooper added things are constantly changing because health department guidelines are evolving every day. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if guidelines are altered again.

“We are following our local health department guidelines,” Cooper said. “It’s what we’ve been given and that’s what we’re going to do, and while that is inconvenient for our fans who are loud and proud, at this time that’s what we are going to do.”

Addi, while thankful she and a few other seniors will have at least an opportunity to get into the game, said the situation is not ideal.

“If I were a junior or a younger student, I’d be mad,” Addi said. “But, I do understand both sides of this.”

On Thursday, however, Addi found some consolation: She obtained a ticket to tonight’s game.

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Here’s a look at how schools are handling ticket distribution:

NEW PALESTINE HIGH SCHOOL

The Dragons first home game is tonight (Friday, Aug. 28)

Football and cheerleading parents: Four tickets were made available for purchase for families whose children are on the active roster.

Due to the limitations on crowd size, any remaining tickets will be sold to high school seniors only.

Seniors were able to begin purchasing tickets at 7:40 a.m. Thursday in the athletic office. They may purchase one ticket per person.

No underclass students or members of the general public will be allowed to purchase tickets. The game will be livestreamed on the New Palestine High School Athletics YouTube page.

For those attending the game, masks are required for all patrons to enter Kelso Stadium and are highly encouraged throughout the entire event. A mask is required for leaving your seat to visit the concession stand, restroom, or exiting the venue.

EASTERN HANCOCK HIGH SCHOOL

The Royals already have had one home game. Here is how their ticket allotment breaks down

–60 tickets for band members to buy for parents/guardians

–32 tickets for purchase for cheerleaders’ parents/guardians

–110 tickets for purchase for players’ parents/guardians

–35 tickets for purchase for the middle school football team

–85 tickets for purchase by high school students.

–100 tickets for purchase by school staff, coaches’ families, administrators and school board members.

The rest of the allotment is made available to the opposing team. All tickets are sold in advance.

An announcement will be made via Twitter @ehroyals on how many tickets remain by 6:30 p.m. on Thursday before a home game. Additional tickets can be requested for purchase via email at [email protected] after 6:30 p.m. Thursdays. Orders will be processed in order they are received. Tickets may be picked up and payment made at a will call window Friday night.

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