More fans can attend Idaho events

Lewiston fans cheer during the 2020 Golden Throne girls’ basketball game at Lewis-Clark State’s Activity Center. New guidance released Friday by the governor’s office and the state board of education allows up to 40 percent fan attendance at games until the end of the winter sports season.

The possibility of indoor high school facilities opening to more than just parents circulated in some social media circles late Thursday. The hope was parents and fans of interscholastic sports finally would get to see their teams in action.

On Friday, the crack in the door was opened slightly more.

The Idaho State Board of Education, along with Gov. Brad Little’s office, officially released new guidelines allowing more spectators at high school athletic events.

“It’s important that we have fans in here,” said Lewiston High School athletic director Corey Williams, who also noted parents of some of the winter sports athletes have been able to attend events. “It’s important that we have that atmosphere. And students as well. We want our students back in here. Our band, who hasn’t been able to perform. Our full allotment of cheerleaders. It’s just that high school atmosphere, and it’s important to all of those involved.”

Under the new guidance, schools can allow up to 40 percent of their gymnasium’s capacity, or up to four spectators for student-athletes, whichever is larger, as long as physical distancing requirements can be maintained or masks are worn. All of the previous guidance that was instituted at the end of 2020 under Stage 2 of the Idaho Rebounds program remains in place.

This comes after the state has seen a daily decrease in COVID-19 cases. Since Dec. 9, when the number of confirmed and probable cases hit a high-water mark of 2,298, the numbers have gone down. In Friday’s daily report, there were a total of 598 cases reported. Idaho has had a cumulative total of 158,798 cases since March 12, 2020.

The issue has been a contenious one among lawmakers around Boise, and also among parents, particularly on social media, where many have complained about not being able to see their kids participate in athletics.

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, and Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, have sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 2, which would lift crowd sizes on public gatherings, include at interscholastic athletic events. The resolution, which was passed out of committee this week, could be taken up on the House floor as early as Monday. Because it is a concurrent resolution, if it passes the House and the Senate, it would not have to go to the governor’s office for his signature. The end goal is to completely remove restrictions.

Crane said easing the restrictions on attendance, while appreciated, doesn’t address the fundamental problem.

“My belief is that the governor has infringed on our First Amendment right to peaceful assembly,” he said. “I appreciate the (State Board of Education) and other stakeholders getting together to address this, but the solution isn’t to get 40 percent of our rights back. We’re advocating for the full restoration of our rights, and we aren’t going to stop until that happens.”

Genesee High School athletic director Kelly Caldwell noted the positives and negatives about the updated protocols.

“The fact that some grandparents now, hopefully, will get an opportunity to watch their grandchildren play in person is great,” said Caldwell, the Whitepine League’s president who also noted that cheerleaders were allowed in the guidance issued Dec. 30. “We don’t have to be so dependent upon social media or other media forms to watch events, which is nice. It’s a great opportunity for fans to be able to attend, and we’re excited for that.

“It’s a double-edged sword. You’re also concerned because there’s more people that will be coming into your gyms, and potentially that could provide a little more risk for people to get sick. COVID is not gone, and we’re still being as diligent as we can to keep everybody safe and still in school and playing the sports they love.”

Williams said the new protocols will not be in place for this weekend’s Clearwater Classic wrestling tournament at the new high school. Because the guidance came out so late, it left him and other administrators scrambling to attempt to put a plan into place, but it just wasn’t feasible. The meet still can be streamed online at trackwrestling.com.

Now the biggest issue becomes determining what 40 percent of capacity really means. It will be different across the board. Generally, a posting inside a school’s gymnasium will list the amount of spectators a facility can safely handle before it becomes a hazard. Schools will be required to post the protocols at the entry doors of the gymnasium.

“Each individual gym is different, so what gym capacity is is different from Lewiston to Sandpoint to Coeur d’Alene,” Williams said. “It’s just a matter of figuring it out what that entails and working it out from there.”

So it will be different for big schools such as Lewiston and Moscow, versus what some schools in the Whitepine League can handle.

“Lapwai probably has the biggest facility in the Whitepine League, and some of the Division II schools have much smaller facilities, so people will just have to work within what is determined at each of those places, and I know the ADs will communicate well with one another and we’ll just move forward in trying to make this as safe and as equitable as possible,” Caldwell said.

Bill Spence contributed to this report.

Walden may be reached at (208) 848-2258, dwalden@lmtribune.com, or on Twitter at @waldo9939.