A temperature check awaiting fans at the gate. Friends, family and any other fans spaced 6 feet apart. Cheerleaders with their voices, if not their spirit, muffled by masks.
Welcome to Arizona high school football, global-pandemic edition.
Most varsity football programs kicked off competition around the state Oct. 2 while trying to observe Arizona Interscholastic Association guidelines and school district specific restrictions to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
While taking precautions, Cronkite News was on hand at three venues—McClintock High in Tempe, Corona del Sol High in Tempe and Cactus High in Glendale—when the season’s first whistles blew.
Protocols were similar, but not exactly the same at each game. Some required everyone in attendance to wear a mask except players on the field. Some schools allowed bands and fans to attend. Others restricted attendance to a couple of family members.
In what would normally be a packed stadium filled with cheering fans, chanting cheerleaders and finely tuned marching bands, McClintock played host to its long-time rival Tempe High in a mostly quiet setting.
Cheerleaders still cheered, but there was a gap in the bleachers where the home team’s band and students would typically sit.
In Glendale, a sign at the entry gate to Cactus High School’s M.L. Huber Stadium reminds fans that wearing a mask inside the facility is mandatory.
This was true for cheerleaders, band members, coaches, referees and even included any player not suited up to play.
Still, it wasn’t entirely enforced, as there were a few fans in attendance who did not wear a face covering.
Social distancing wasn’t the best either, because of construction in the stadium that required everyone to sit on the same side of the field. Home and visiting fans were separated by a yellow caution tape. Still, with supporters from both teams in one set of bleachers, some fans were not distanced, including some without masks.
Before the game, each team sent out only one team captain for the pregame coin toss. And once play began, there was, in a sense, a bubble for players and coaches with few allowed to be near the field.
Cheerleaders had to keep their distance, and no media was allowed in the players box.
Still, those in attendance were happy to see the Friday night lights lit up again.
“It is just great for the players to be able to play when I thought this was not even going to happen at all,” one Sunrise Mountain fan said. “Sports have all changed, but just to be able to come to a Friday night high school football game is a blessing.”
A Cactus High fan agreed, and he said he’s willing to observe the protocols if it allows the games to go on.
“At the end of the day, I am going to do my part,” he said.
After losing the opener, Cactus High won its second game over Peoria, 43-0.
The Peoria Panthers host Greenway at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16. Those who attend should bring masks.
People who attend district sporting events “are required to wear masks, and we are doing multiple reminders throughout the events for people to keep their masks on,” said Danielle Airey, a spokeswoman for PUSD.