hickory crowd

TANNER MONDOK | Herald Spectators watch as Hickory takes on Sharon Friday in Hermitage.

After watching her daughter get hurt during a volleyball game being live-streamed, Carrie Reynolds is glad that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has increased spectator capacity for indoor and outdoor events.

“I was afraid. I was nervous and I was angry,” Reynolds said about a Sept. 17 game at the Grove City High School main gym, when her Carlie Reynolds, her daughter, sustained an injury in Grove City’s match against Hickory.

Carrie Reynolds watched the contest — which was the Eagles’ season opener and senior night — from a livestream at the home of another player’s family, so she saw when her daughter, in obvious pain, went down.

She said the drive to the school left her in emotional turmoil. Assistant coach Megan Jones called Reynolds to make sure she knew that Carlie had been hurt.

Carlie, 16, was emotional too.

“She was in tears,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said it was heartbreaking to be watching remotely from a computer instead of being able to comfort her daughter.

But with the state’s pandemic restrictions, there wasn’t any other way.

At the time, Pennsylvania limited capacity for indoor events to 25 people, which included players and coaches from both teams. Because that usually exceeded the limit, substitutes had to wait outside the gymnasium until they were summoned into the game.

As fall sports season rolls toward its close — this is the District 10 football season’s final week — Gov. Tom Wolf issued new, less stringent, venue guidelines for events, including scholastic sports.

Indoor guidelines now permit 20% attendance at venues with 2,000 or less capacity, 15% for buildings with between 2,001 and 10,000 capacity and 10% or 3,750, whichever is less, at arenas with more than 10,000 capacity.

The outdoor guidelines allow 25 percent attendance in venues with 2,000 or less capacity, 25% in stadiums with between 2,001 and 10,000 capacity, and 15% or 7,500, whichever is less, at stadiums with more than 10,000 capacity.

During Grove City’s Sept. 17 game, Reynolds said parents of seniors were able to watch the livestream from Grove City High School auditorium, but families of the other players — including Carlie Reynolds, who is a junior — were not allowed in the building.

Carlie sprained a ligament on the inside of her left knee, and her mother said she’s doing well with physical therapy. She hopes to be able to play again before the season ends, and she’s still going to the games and practices to support her teammates.

Reynolds said she has spoken with school administrators several times about allowing more spectators at games and stresses that their presence is important, especially when something goes wrong.

Grove City Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Finch said district officials recognize her concern about having family at the games to support participants.

With the new guidelines, Finch said more people will be able to attend contests at Grove City, but the district won’t increase attendance to the maximum allowable.

With a capacity for about 1,800 spectators — about 1,400 on the home side and 400 in the visitors’ bleachers — at Forker Field, Grove City would be allowed to have about 450 spectators for home games.

But Finch said Forker Field will accommodate about 315 people on the home side and 90 on the visitors’ side while maintaining 6-foot social distancing.

The district will continue to provide livestreaming and recordings of the games. Finch said the livestream went well two weeks ago for Grove City’s homecoming game.

Each student participant, including the band and cheerleaders, will receive two tickets to share with their families.

Spectators are not allowed to congregate on the sidelines or at the fences, the concession stand is closed, people must wear face masks, and tickets must be secured in advance.

Those who do not comply will be asked to leave, he said.

With the winter sports, winter concert and Christmas pageant season fast approaching, districts have to apply the guidelines to their gymnasiums and auditoriums as well as the stadiums. And Grove City is no different, although Finch didn’t elaborate on plans for indoor winter events.

“We’re finding all kinds of creative strategies,” he said.

Following is a roundup of Mercer County school districts and their approaches to the new guidelines.

Farrell

When the two-time defending state champion Steelers wrap up the regular season Friday against Greenville, they will have the potential for their biggest crowd of the year.

With a maximum football stadium capacity of a little more than 2,000, Farrell would be allowed to have a maximum crowd of about 400 spectators Friday.

“We will comply with the governor’s orders,” said Superintendent Dr. Lora Adams-King.

Adams-King said the district normally holds winter events, including a Christmas band concert, in the auditorium. But district officials haven’t decided whether to schedule anything in the auditorium, which was updated as part of an overall school renovation.

Contractors completed the project over the summer, after delays caused by pandemic restrictions.

“The way this has unfolded, a lot is happening,” Adams-King said. “As events unfold, we will determine what we’ll do.”

Hermitage

With the regular football season entering its final week, the undefeated Hickory Hornets -- which clinched the District 10 Region 3 title Friday with a victory over cross-town rival Sharon -- will welcome a capacity crowd of 800 people when the playoffs open later this month.

Superintendent Dr. Dan Bell said band members, cheerleaders and football players are getting two tickets each.

“We distributed the tickets at practices, so the kids are able to give them to their parents,” Bell said.

Spectators will be divided by grade levels, with parents of freshmen and sophomores in the visiting bleachers, and parents of juniors and seniors in the home bleachers. The marching band is relocated to the end zone, to temporary bleachers moved from the tennis and softball fields to provide more space, Bell said.

At the high school’s gymnasium, the guidelines will allow for an occupancy of about 260 people, including parents from the home and visiting teams, for the volleyball games and winter sports, Bell said.

The district normally hosts a holiday musical concert and senior class play in December. Bell said the new guidelines would allow some attendance for those events, but school officials haven’t yet determined how, or whether, they will be held.

Jamestown Area

Jamestown Area School District is following state guidelines with all of its athletic programs, including girls volleyball, the district’s only team currently playing indoors, said Tracy Reiser, the district’s superintendent.

The gym has a capacity of 660, which means a maximum of 132 people — including players, coaches, staff and parents. Players on both teams will each be given three tickets to family members, Reiser said.

She said all safety measures will go into effect immediately.

“The district requires all staff, students and visitors to have their temperature taken, masks must be worn at all times and social distancing protocol will be adhered to,” Reiser said. “No assemblies will take place.”

Mercer Area

Superintendent Dr. Ronald R. Rowe Jr. said Mercer Area is running its new capacity pretty close to the state recommendations for contests, including last week’s homecoming game against Reynolds.

With a capacity of 1,800 spectators, that would allow for 450 fans, including this Friday for the Mustangs’ game against neighboring rival West Middlesex. Attendees have to wear face coverings and practice social distancing, and spectators from the visiting team will not be allowed, Rowe said.

“Our parents and community have been very understanding,” he said.

The number of spectators permitted for other school events — including winter sports and other events — will change from week to week depending on the number of participants who have to be there.

Most events are being livestreamed, and the district is still looking at what it wants to do about other events like concerts and plays.

Reynolds

Superintendent John Sibeto said the district will follow all of the state guidelines, but did not provide any details on seating capacity or specific provisions.

Sharon City

Sharon City School District has the county’s largest venues -- a stadium that seats 4,900, a 2,270-seat gym and an auditorium with room for 1,500 spectators.

Superintendent Michael Calla said at this time, the district is working out its capacity plan in response to the new crowd-size restrictions.

“The district is currently working on revising our health and safety plans,” he said.

The school has a general health and safety plan and a sports and extracurricular health and safety plan.

Calla said the district does not have any non-sporting events -- such as Christmas pageants, band and choral concerts or musical and dramatic performances -- planned at this time.

With sporting events, the district will follow recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the state Department of Health.

“The governor’s directive clearly states that all masking and social distancing mandates must be followed,” Calla said.

Any new procedures the district comes up with will be implemented Friday, Calla said.

Sharpsville Area School District

Under the new occupancy rules, Sharpsville could have a maximum of 500 people at stadium sporting events, including football games and other outdoor sports such as soccer, and junior varsity and junior high football.

Superintendent John Vannoy said said band members, cheerleaders and football players will each receive two tickets.

With about 250 people allowed to attend contests in the gymnasium, Blue Devils’ volleyball players receive four tickets each and middle school girls basketball players get two tickets each.

Though he felt for the students who weren’t able to attend sporting events to support their classmates, Vannoy said school staff and students have live-streamed as many sporting events online as possible for those who couldn’t attend. Those efforts have has generated positive responses.

“We realize that it’s not an ideal situation, but we are making the best out of the situation,” Vannoy said.

The pandemic restrictions have affected more than sports at Sharpsville. The district has had to cancel indoor events -- assemblies, an open house for parents of elementary students and sixth-grade orientation. Vannoy said the middle high school auditorium, where the district completed a renovation project in August, has a total capacity of 760, has been used as a large group instruction area for some classes and practices.

Sharpsville typically holds a student-led play in the fall, but Vannoy said school officials hope the play can be rescheduled for later in the year.

“We got our one and only auditorium that we just renovated and it looks fabulous, but we haven’t had a chance to showcase it,” he said.

West Middlesex Area School District

In West Middlesex Area School District, students participating in band, cheerleading and football each receive four tickets for family or friends to attend games, where they will be seated in “pods.”

These pods are located throughout the bleachers and allow visitor groups, such as families, to remain near each other while distancing themselves from spectators in other pods. This model also allows school officials to perform contract tracing if someone tests positive for COVID-19 after a sporting event, Superintendent Raymond Omer said.

The West Middlesex Jr. Sr. High School gym, the total capacity of 450 people allows for about 90 visitors at indoor sporting events, Omer said.

In the high school auditorium, which has a maximum capacity of 660 people, Omer said there is some confusion among district officials regarding the pandemic restrictions. There are questions over whether performers on stage and musicians in the orchestra pit should be counted with those in the audience or if they would be considered separate because they are located outside the audience seating area.

But since West Middlesex’s biggest annual auditorium event, the school musical, is normally held in the spring, officials have time to plan within the restrictions. Or, said Omer, the state could change those guidelines.

“We have to be reasonable about this,” he said.

Representatives of Commodore Perry, Greenville and Lakeview school districts were not available to provide information for this article.

Staff writers David Dye, Michael Roknick, Melissa Klaric and Eric Poole contributed to this article.

NOTE: This article has been edited to correct the name of Reynolds' superintendent and to remove references to a provision in the state's crowd size rules that would allow districts to admit additional spectators.