Omicron forces limit to indoor sports spectators to 500

Point+guard+junior+Chad+Nguyen+dribbles+the+ball+in+front+of+a+sparse+crowd+as+a+result+of+the+indoor+audi-+ence+limit+at+a+home+game+against+Buena+Park+on+Wednesday.

Kristel Laceste

Point guard junior Chad Nguyen dribbles the ball in front of a sparse crowd as a result of the indoor audi- ence limit at a home game against Buena Park on Wednesday.

Kate Yang

Victory chants from the student section echoed across the gym floor. Students dressed in white spirit wear spilled out from the bleachers as the buzzer signaled the end of the fourth quarter — Sunny Hills reigned victorious over Troy High School. 

Guard junior Sean Cal jumped from the bench, into the arms of his fellow teammates and soon joined the hundreds of students who cheered him on for the game’s entirety. 

“[The fans] make me play better because I just have something to prove to my friends and peers in the stands,” Cal said. 

With the Omicron variant causing a surge in positive COVID-19 cases, the Sunny Hills athletic department enforced a spectator limit restricting the amount of attendees from 1,000 to 500 for all indoor winter sports events — beginning Jan. 15 — while continuing with previous mask and testing regulations, in compliance with state and country orders. 

“Providing kids with the opportunity to experience the atmosphere of a fun and exciting game as long as it keeps them safe and healthy is what we prioritize,” athletic director Paul Jones said. “These are games, times and experiences that students will never get back, so we just need to be smart about handling it.” 

Similar to the spectatorship protocol — five guests per player — introduced in the 2020-2021 school year, players, coaches, cheerleaders and dancers from both participating schools will now be allowed two guests for each game. 

The Jan. 14 girls and boys basketball games against Sonora High School marked the last event with the existing 1,000 spectator limit, yet center senior Laila Ahmad does not hold any major concerns over how the reduced audience will affect her team’s performance. 

Providing kids with the opportunity to experience the atmosphere of a fun and exciting game as long as it keeps them safe and healthy is what we prioritize.”

— athletic director Paul Jones

“Having a crowd is not going to make us shoot 100% of our shots,” Ahmad said. “[Our team] plays for ourselves and each other and having people watch us is just a bonus.” 

In fact, she agrees with the school’s decision to prioritize the health and safety of its players and students, especially as the Omicron variant sweeps across the county. 

“The rule is not too bad in my opinion, and I personally do not mind it that much,” she said. “I think everyone’s health is more important, because if we stay healthy, we can keep playing, which is what I would rather have than a crowd.” 

Her teammate, guard sophomore Taylor Parra, shares her worries over the escalating COVID-19 cases and expresses disappointment when hearing the school’s decision to reintroduce the spectatorship limit. 

“I definitely feel more pressure to play well when our fans are present,” Parra said. “I like having a crowd because they hype us up and keep the energy alive, so I was pretty bummed.”

Even without all of his fans seated in the bleachers, Cal believes he and his team will bring home many victories.

“Our performance is more of the same really [without fans], because we’ve been playing since the summer and the fall without fans at all, so I think we’ll still play well.” he said. “We don’t depend on it, we play the same way no matter who is watching.

The spectator limit will remain until the school receives direction from the Orange County Department of Public Health [OCDPH] to increase the spectator back to 1,000, Jones said. 

As the Omicron variant continues to skyrocket the virus’ transmissibility, Jones encourages all athletes to prioritize their health and safety.

“Just be smart about wearing your mask and interacting with people and putting yourself in positions, in settings where you can catch COVID-19,” he said. “Sometimes nobody wants to be that one person wearing their mask because it might not be considered cool at the time, but it might cost you something else.”