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40% is better than nothing at all

by JOSH MCDONALD
Staff Reporter | January 25, 2021 12:55 PM

The third time was the charm for Idaho high school athletics fans as the Idaho State Board of Education and Gov. Brad Little’s office announced that they would be allowing gymnasiums to allow up to 40% capacity for spectators moving forward.

At the turn of the new year spectators were still not being allowed, but in the weeks since that has increased to 2 people per student, to the now set 40%.

At the three Shoshone County schools, the change is a welcome one, but one that they are taking and modifying to fit their own individual needs.

For instance, the Mullan Pavilion, the home of the Mullan Tigers — can hold a max occupancy of 1,350 people, meaning that 40% would be right around 550 folks per event, a number that Mullan School District Activities Director doesn’t believe they will ever really threaten to hit.

At Wallace Jr./Sr. High School’s Kirby Krulitz Court, that number is lower than in Mullan, but AD Bruce Bailey and the Wallace School District have a plan to allow each player to have four spectators specific to them, and then any amount of Wallace fans after that up to 220, which would put them at the 40% threshold.

The Intermountain League, whose members include Kellogg, Bonners Ferry, Priest River and Timberlake, all have agreed to allowing each player to have four spectators — including the cheerleaders and visiting teams, and then allowing a 50-person student section for events.

KHS AD Mike LaFountaine met with the other schools’ administrations to make the decision, and the early attempts this last weekend in Priest River and Bonners Ferry seemed to work out well.

Kellogg High School’s Andrews Gymnasium has a max capacity of 1,500, meaning that the gym could facilitate up to 600 fans under the new guidelines, but with wanting to reignite the student section, it makes social distancing for family groups difficult.

“Games are supposed to be fun for all of the kids, not just the ones playing either,” LaFountaine said. “Kids want to come watch — we want them to be able to.”

All schools will ask that fans wear proper masks when proper social distancing can’t be adhered to, and in the case of the student sections — students will be required to wear a mask properly as they cheer on their schoolmates.

While Mullan doesn’t have a set plan just yet, if they elect to go with a similar plan to Wallace and Kellogg, or if they go with a simple 40% — it won’t be a difficult adjustment for them.

All three ADs were on the same page concerning the decision — they are just happy to be able to allow fans back in.

“It’s a huge deal to have fans in the gyms for these games,” Spooner said. “I think the kids get a better overall experience with more fans.”

The new exemption is a significant change to Gov. Little’s Stage 2 order, which limits public and private gatherings to 10 people or fewer.

It does still require fans to wear facial coverings when sitting less than 6 feet from people outside their own household, but it removed all penalties for not enforcing those requirements.

The exemption applies to high school and middle school athletics and does not apply to college or professional sports.