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Running out onto the gridiron amid packed crowds decked out in black and yellow, Sunny Hills football center junior Jacob Neumann still remembers the energy during the 2019-2020 season that ended with a championship run.
“The atmosphere was crazy,” Neumann said. “Hearing the loud cheers of our fans made the team so happy knowing that so many students came out to support us. They bring another level of excitement to the games, and it upsets me that we might not have that this season.”
With nearly 57,000 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Orange County as of mid-October, what used to be stands filled with students beyond capacity may now be empty as the decision to let students attend football games this upcoming season remains indefinite.
“The Fullerton Joint Union High School District [FJUHSD] will be in charge of informing us if and when we are allowed to have students on campus for athletic events,” said Paul Jones, who replaced Jon Caffrey this school year as the athletic director. “It’s been an ongoing discussion topic that we still do not have a final answer for.”
As of Oct. 18, the football season is scheduled to begin with the Lancers playing on the road against Capistrano Valley on Jan. 8 before returning for a home game at Buena Park High School Stadium to face El Modena a week later on Jan. 15.
Head football coach Peter Karavedas said he believes a decision regarding student attendance will be made close to the end of November or December but not before an announcement regarding the current safety restrictions on players during practice is made.
“We can’t share a ball or touch each other right now in practice, so I’m assuming that they will have to lift these and make some sort of announcement before the season begins,” Karavedas said. “I know that there are a number of people working on that so I’m confident that it will happen.”
Jones believes the main decision about fans being allowed at games will rest with Orange County officials.
“When we receive approval from the county, we will have an opportunity to coordinate our next steps in regards to fan attendance at athletic events,” he said. “We will continue to be diligent in taking the necessary safety measures to keep our community safe, if we are permitted to have fans in attendance.”
As an alternative to being in the stands, Jones said school officials are working on providing a free livestreaming service available for all home varsity games.
“We are working on streaming capabilities for indoor and outdoor athletic events,” Jones said. “As we speak, we are working on a solution to stream home varsity football games.”
Junior Luke Linares, who has chosen not to return to campus when hybrid learning begins Nov. 2, sees attending football games and SH sporting events as a way to make up for the absence of social interaction that he’s missed since distance learning began in March.
“I wouldn’t watch the livestreams because I go to sports games for the fun of watching it with friends,” Linares said. “I’m purely not going to school for convenience, so going to a football game is an escape.”
As long as students are aware of their own surroundings and work to maintain their own safety, he believes that students attending sporting events will not be a big issue.
“The only case in which the risk [for COVID-19] becomes a liability for the school is if they didn’t state that students are coming at their own discretion,” Linares said. “If they work to maintain their own safety, along with wearing masks, temperature checks, etc., it should be fine.”
Just like Linares, sophomore Raeya Peace plans to remain at home to learn from her teachers through Zoom sessions. But when it comes to sports, she would be willing to attend the games and give support to the football team if given the chance.
“I have concerns about whether the school will properly enforce social distancing rather than just encourage it,” Peace said. “I believe it would be better if everyone was to social distance with masks, especially during a halftime where everyone tends to huddle in groups.”
From her experiences attending SH sporting events last year, Peace trusts that, with restrictions, students can enjoy the games without much risk of being infected if they consistently follow the safety guidelines.
“I believe it’s safer to attend outdoor events like the football games rather than school where there are more students,” she said. “The games also run for a shorter amount of time in comparison to attending in-person classes.”
No matter what the decision will be about fans in the stands, Neumann hopes that the Lancer school spirit will not fade away because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Being the home team and having fans is what you look forward to when playing,” he said. “Without them, it would definitely take away some of the excitement of playing, but I know that at some point, we will get used to it.”
This story originally appeared in the Oct. 30 print issue, which can be read here.