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High school athletics resume in unique way amid pandemic

Staff Report
The Office of the State Fire Marshal will determine seating capacity for Andrew Canova Stadium and other high school football stadiums to determine limits on attendance due to the COVID pandemic.

Players and coaches for the Iberville Parish high school football and volleyball teams are grateful they’re back in action, although they agree that games during a pandemic are anything but normal.

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association earlier this month lifted the moratorium on games, but compliance with regulations issued in accordance with the state Department of Health have rewritten the playbook on how to hold competition.

The Iberville Parish School Board is currently working with the Office of the State Fire Marshal to determine how many fans a stadium can accommodate at a quarter of its capacity, Superintendent Arthur Joffrion said.

“It’s going to vary from stadium to stadium,” he said. “Plaquemine, as a 4A school, has a bigger stadium, whereas White Castle and East Iberville are Class 1A schools, so those are smaller venues.

“We want to get as many fans who want to be in the stadium, but we have to follow the guidelines put out in place for us,” Joffrion said.

St. John High School also uses Plaquemine’s Andrew Canova Stadium for its home games.

Plaquemine head coach Paul Distefano, who serves as parish athletic director, said tickets for Plaquemine, White Castle and East Iberville games will only be available through pre-sales.

Priority will go to the families of players – parents, grandparents, stepparents and siblings.

“For admission, we’re allow each player to buy four tickets either by having their parents come to school in the morning and buy them, or for the kid to bring me the money,” Distefano said. “It’s crucial for the kids to have their parents to see them play, and to be there if their kid gets hurt, so we want them to see them for the good times and bad times.”

For football, state regulations will allow only a 25 percent capacity in the high school stadiums. It also requires all spectators to wear masks, and to undergo a temperature check upon arrival at the stadium.

To remain in compliance with social distancing, the band will play in the end zone.

“JUST GLAD TO PLAY”

Regardless of the regulations, players just feel thankful they can play, Distefano said.

Uncertainty loomed until September on whether high school sporting events would prevail during the pandemic.

“The kids had a somber look on their faces at one point in the summer when the conferences (SWAC, Southland and others) shut down the season,” he said. “It was hard to see the look on their faces because they had been through so much, but now they at least have sone sense of normalcy. This is unchartered water for everybody, but I’m happy for kids in all the schools.”

The safety protocol will take time, but it’s something every school must embrace, White Castle head football coach Marc Brown said.

“The biggest difference is the temperature checks and distance in the locker rooms, and masks in the weight room, and just spreading things out, but we’re blessed to have the facilities to do it,” he said. “It’s been a challenge, but now it’s kind of the norm to us. It’s not a big deal now, because whatever we have to do to play football, we’ll do it.”

For St. John, the scenario goes beyond COVID. The Eagles were set to begin their season in Lake Charles against Hamilton Christian, but the widespread damage from Hurricane Laura rules it out for at least the start of the season.

Head coach Eric Holden isn’t ruling out the game, however.

“We’re sympathetic and empathetic to what’s going on over there, and I was raised in that area, so we’re trying to be as patient as possible with them and hope they can get back to some kind of normalcy,” he said. “We hope we can play those guys, just as we hope we have a normal season with all the craziness of COVID.”

13 FANS?

Football may have its issue with seating in the outdoor setting, but it may prove tougher for volleyball and other gymnasium sports.

The state regulations, which continue in Phase 3, limit capacity to 50 people in a gymnasium.

“It’s definitely rough with everything you have to go through … we’re lucky if we get 13 fans,” East Iberville coach Doug Schultz said. “We have to go into our own pockets to pay the officials, so it’s tough right now.”

The challenges go beyond pay, however.

Additional procedures and keeping up with the protocol can prove as challenging as preparation for each game.

“It’s a challenge just to make sure all protocol met,” White Castle coach Lanisha Taylor said. “You have to take temperatures every day and just make sure everyone is on the same page with regulations.”

The limited schedule due to the pandemic and storms have also forced rescheduling and cancellations, including the elimination of tournament play this season, according to St. John coach Caitlin Hester.

As with all schools, it comes down to making the best of the situation, she said.

“We’re starting to get in the swing of how things work this season and the adjustments we’ve had to make,” Hester said. “My girls have taken everything in stride and have had a great attitude of just being fortunate enough to be playing right now.

“Obviously, it’s different with the limitation of fans and distancing and things of that sort, but at the end of the day we’re glad we’re getting to play this season, regardless of how different it looks,” she said.