Tri-Cities HS football teams set to return to gridiron, prep for first game following TSSAA guidelines

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ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) — High school football teams are set to return to the gridiron in Tennessee, but Friday nights under the lights will look different.

While neighboring states postponed their football seasons until the spring, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) decided they will play during the pandemic this fall, which will mean a lot of precautions in place at stadiums.

News Channel 11’s Pheben Kassahun spent the day speaking with school officials around the region to find out about preparations for Friday night.

When you come into Citizens Bank Football Stadium, you will be required to come in wearing a mask and get your temperature checked.

“Before entry into any of our games, you will have a temperature check which will be below 100.4. You will be required to wear a mask at all of the buildings,” Elizabethton High School athletic director Forrest Holt said. “We’re expecting you to wear the mask the entire time. We’re also doing PA announcements to remind you to wear your mask and maintain proper social distancing.”

It is to give the safest atmosphere possible to Cyclones fans so they will be able to continue cheering on their team.

Coming off of an undefeated season, the Cyclones are ready to hit the ground running.

“There are a lot of schools that aren’t able to play right now, and a lot of states that aren’t able to play right now, so with this opportunity that we have, we’re definitely not taking it lightly and not taking it for granted,” Holt said.

Elizabethton High School

Holt said their stadium, which seats 4,500, will be reduced to about one-third.

“We limited our season passes this year to participants’ families. That would include football, band, choir and cheerleading,” Holt said. “Those groups are in groups that are no larger than six people, and we created a new seating chart on the home and the visitors for those season pass holders.”

Holt said each side of the stands are marked with seat numbers, row numbers and section numbers, so everyone attending games this year have been given a season ticket with their assigned seat on it. Fans will be grouped together.

Unicoi County High School

“If they’e sitting where their season pass has designated them to, they’re going to be properly social distanced and then they’re going to have the same seat for the entire season,” Unicoi County High School athletic director Michael Smith said.

Unicoi County High School is rolling out in their newly renovated football stadium this year. Athletic director Michael Smith said while they will also fill about one-third of their 3,000 seats, group sizes will not be limited.

“We’re glad that there’s opportunity here to be able to play,” Smith said. “We have sold season tickets here at school already. We have sold some, like this individual game tickets here at school this week to our staff, our parents of our players, our parents of our band members, cheerleaders.”

Smith said the school is using GoFan.co, an online service to buy tickets. Once tickets are sold out online, extra tickets will not be given out.

There is also new rules for how concessions will operate. Long lines are not allowed.

“We are offering one side of the consessions stand to be run on the visitor side,” Holt said. “They’ll be serving prepackaged items only, so they will not be handling food or intereacting and things like that.”

Smith said, “We have two different concessions stands in each stadium. One on each ends and they’re going to do prepackaged things only. We’ll have Cokes and things like that, obviously. We’ll have candy. We’re going to have nachos and cheese but it’s already prepackaged but not putting anything together. They are going to do hotdog put it on crockpots and stuff and bring here and heat it.”

School officials are hoping Friday’s first games of the season will set an example for the rest of fall sports.

Holt said, “We feel like we’ve gone above and beyond so that we can have the best opportunity to continue not only to have this game but with games down the road and all of our other sports.”

For Cyclones fans who were not able to buy tickets, Elizabethton High School officials have contracted with NFHS Network so fans can watch live stream at home. For those with season passes, it gets them into football games and other sports held on the field and in the gym.

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