Non-compliant fans pose challenge for high school football officials trying to follow COVID-19 regulations

Local Coronavirus Coverage

Athletic directors are grappling with how to manage fans who refuse to wear a mask despite COVID-19 regulations

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. (WJHL) – As area high schools make a cautious return to the football field this season, enforcement of COVID-19 regulations presents a challenge to local high school athletics officials.

David Crockett High School, South Greene High School and Sullivan Central High School received letters from the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association this month, alleging that the regulations aren’t being followed at school football games.

The three letters are identical except for the dates, and none detail which regulations aren’t being followed at school football games.

Josh Kite, Athletics Director at Crockett, said that TSSAA never clarified which regulations weren’t being followed at games. He said attempts to reach TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress, who signed each letter, have gone unanswered in the three weeks since he reached out.

Officials at TSSAA told him that the letters were sent to high schools that received complaints that they weren’t following guidelines. Kite said TSSAA sent some safety tips, many of which he said the school was already following prior to receiving the letter.

“I’ve paid hundreds of dollars in signs, I’ve paid for extra help, cleaning supplies, thermometers, you know at the front gate we check everyone, we require everyone to wear their mask,” Kite said.

But the mask-clad pioneer signs can only do so much.

Kite said that he hasn’t received clear instructions on how to manage fans who refuse to wear a mask in the facility. He also said it’s difficult to enforce compliance, even with reduced ticket sales.

“It’s very difficult on how you want to handle it,” he said. “Do you kick them out and cause a scene? And when you’re trying to monitor 1,200 people at a game, it’s difficult. I don’t have the funds or resources to mandate all that and be the social distancing police or the mask police.”

Kite said officials require fans to undergo a temperature check before entering the facility, and regular reminders are broadcast during the game to remind fans to social distance and wear a mask.

He said after receiving the letter, he and other officials have done what they can to step up requirements, and adherence appeared to improve at following games.

Terry Hoese, assistant principal and athletic director at South Greene High School, gave a similar account. He said officials at the high school are following the guidelines set by TSSAA, but he said enforcement is out of his hands.

“We’re basically doing everything we feel like we can do at this point,” Hoese said.

Officials at Sullivan Central expressed a similar sentiment, and said the email to which the letter was attached stated:

“It was reported that at the football game last night, Aug. 31, 2020, that there were several people in attendance that were not wearing a face mask. Also, an announcement was not made for the people in attendance to be wearing a mask.”

Sullivan Central principal Mark Foster said in a statement that school officials continue following the COVID-19 guidelines instated by TSSAA, and that those guidelines include mask wearing and frequent announcements.

The TSSAA lists guidelines on its website, which includes required temerature checks, limits on fan attendance and social distancing requirements.

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