High school football is back in Manatee County, but with a twist.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused various changes to college and pro sports this year. Now high school sports in Florida, and specifically Manatee County, will see differences.
In football, you won’t see overflow crowds with fans hanging on fences to see a big game unfold this fall. There won’t be extra vendors selling T-shirts or other items, either.
Ticket sales, stadium seating, how to enter the stadium, capacity and concession options are other things that will be different for fans in 2020 than in past seasons due to the health crisis.
“We actually worked with the epidemiologist for the health department here to look at what we could do and how we need to basically structure things,” Manatee County athletic director Jason Montgomery said.
So what does it look like for fans wanting to catch a game in person?
Here’s a look at the Manatee County School District’s guidelines and best practices on game days:
- All ticketing is online. Visiting team provided separate link.
- Markings, signage and staff at all entrances to ensure social distancing.
- Separate entrances for home and visiting fans.
- There will be no standing or loitering in common areas or along fences.
- Stadium and gym areas will be marked to ensure social distancing between groups.
- Seating sections may be in groupings of 1,2,3 and 4 with a min -foot’ bubble around the grouping.
- Additional space such as skipping the first row will be used around walkways.
- Restrooms will close appropriate stalls / urinals to ensure social distancing.
- Water fountains will be unavailable.
- Fans encouraged to bring hand sanitizer and hand sanitizer will be made available throughout the stadium / gym.
Stadium capacity will be limited to 35-40 percent, Montgomery said.
That means Manatee, which has the largest stadium among public schools in the county, will see no more than 2,300 fans at a game, while the rest of the county’s public schools will see their seating limited to around 800-1,000 fans.
General admission tickets are $6 and obtained online at the home school’s website, with a link on the visiting team’s website for an allocated amount of tickets for visiting fans.
“That enables us to just scan and go as we’re bringing people in, so there’s no ticket sales or transactions happening at the gates,” Montgomery said. “Obviously, hand sanitizer will be readily available. Football games, unless you’re going to the restroom or going to the concession stand, they’ve got to be in their seats in the stands.”
While ticket sales are done online, parking is handled in person. However, fans are encouraged to bring exact change and those collecting money will wear gloves and face coverings at all times, according to the school district’s guidelines.
Additionally, concession items will be pre-packaged food with “pricing points to reduce the usage of coins for change if cashless is not an option,” according to the school district’s guidelines.
Concession workers are expected to wear face masks at all times, too, as well as game officials.
As far as players and teams go? Here’s a look at the guidelines and best practices the district compiled for football:
- Each player must have his own water bottle. The bottle can be filled from a central location. Trainer or designee will be responsible for water bottle refills.
- Pregame, during, and after the game, all team personnel shall refrain from sharing towels, water, apparel, or equipment and play call wrist coaches.
- Limit coin toss attendees to the referee, umpire and one designated representative from each team.
- Coin toss should take place in the center of the field with designated individuals maintaining social distancing of 6 feet. No media.
- No handshakes prior to and following the coin toss.
- Maintain social distancing of 6 feet while performing all pregame responsibilities with all officiating crew members, game administration staff, line-to-gain crew, clock operators, individuals handling the balls during the game and team personnel.
- Team box will be extended from 10-yard line to 10-yard line so social distancing can be maintained on sideline.
- Benches or chairs may be used on the sidelines that maintain the social distance guidelines.
- Footballs will be rotated and sanitized as often as possible during the game.
- No handshakes after the game.
- Post-game meeting on field with social distance protocols for instructions.
- Players are to exit the field immediately after post-game meeting and prepare to ride home. Do not go to the sidelines and talk with family or friends.
- No family and friends allowed on the field.
- Masks/face coverings should be worn by student-athletes while on the sidelines/benches and not actively engaged in competition “field of play” whenever possible.
Players and teams are also getting routine temperature checks, and the district is advising teams, for any sport this fall, to video everything in case a player tests positive and they can easily do contact tracing to figure out how many people were exposed to the virus.