Shifting into September

Updates and adjustments with COVID-19 guidelines

Starr%E2%80%99s+Mill+fans+watch+from+the+outfield+as+the+Lady+Panthers+play+Northside.+Through+the+month+of+August+into+September%2C+spectators+have+had+to+follow+several+rules+and+regulations+implemented+by+the+GHSA+and+the+county.+As+football+approaches%2C+the+school+has+laid+out+several+rules+to+follow+throughout+the+season+to+slow+the+spread+of+COVID-19.+These+regulations+include+less+seating+and+adjustments+to+the+student+section.

Mya McCullum

Starr’s Mill fans watch from the outfield as the Lady Panthers play Northside. Through the month of August into September, spectators have had to follow several rules and regulations implemented by the GHSA and the county. As football approaches, the school has laid out several rules to follow throughout the season to slow the spread of COVID-19. These regulations include less seating and adjustments to the student section.

Daniel Stackhouse, Sports Editor

Through August, fall sports have been progressing in the midst of the global pandemic, and football is right around the corner. However, there have been some new changes that have shifted the way sports will look through this new normal.

The GHSA announced a slew of changes over the past few months starting on Aug. 6. Most notably, cheerleading has been delayed and moved to the winter sports season starting in mid-November and ending mid-February. One Act Play has been tentatively delayed until the spring. Football was delayed again and is set to finally begin play this week.

We’re not taking seniors first, we’re not taking juniors first, we’re not taking freshmen first. It’s going to be the first group that wants to come in and get those seats.”

— Athletic Director Shane Ratliff

Throughout the month GHSA monitored COVID numbers to determine if the football start date needed to be delayed. Through that time, the only major change was softball’s final play date being set to mid-October to have the state tournaments end on Halloween. Most recently, the GHSA updated the guidelines infected teams needed to follow when getting back into play.

All updates on GHSA decisions can be read on their website.

For Starr’s Mill, navigating fall sports has been a smooth ride minus a few road bumps. Both volleyball and junior varsity football teams needed to quarantine in late July and early August, respectively. No teams have been significantly impacted since then.

In softball, bleachers were removed for all home games and spectators were required to bring their own folding chairs. The bleachers were placed by the dugouts so that both teams may social distance and not cluster in the dugouts.

“[Volleyball] spectators have to wear [a mask],” athletic director Shane Ratliff said. “That’s required now inside. We haven’t marked anything off, per se, in [the gym].”

On top of the mask requirement, the school has decided to push both sets of stands out in attempts to maintain social distancing. This means that all matches at an event will be played on one court instead of multitasking with the conventional two courts. Players have also been urged to wear masks and social distance when not in play.

Football has been a subject of concern for many weeks, but now a lot of those questions have been answered. For one thing, though masks are not mandatory, they are highly recommended by the school. Only every other row will be used. Families will be allowed to sit together, but everybody else will have to socially distance. The student section has been severely reduced and stretched out horizontally. 

“[The student section] is first come, first serve,” Ratliff said.  “We’re not taking seniors first, we’re not taking juniors first, we’re not taking freshmen first. It’s going to be the first group that wants to come in and get those seats. We’ll have Officer Taylor sitting in there monitoring the student section with two administrators. Masks are going to be something we will highly recommend there especially if [students] are planning to get closer to each other.”

We’re hoping to get around 1,800 [spectators] in the building.”

— Athletic Director Shane Ratliff

If the student section becomes too much to handle, the students will be broken up and forced to sit in normal seating.

Capacity will be set at around half capacity of the stadium. Seating will be marked to maintain around six feet of social distancing. The school hopes to also open up the other side of the stadium to adult spectators if necessary. Band and color guard will be moved down to the track to allow for more seating.

“Band parents, football parents, and cheer parents will all have the opportunity to purchase tickets first, so that they can see their kids play,” Ratliff said. “We are doing just under fifty percent [capacity] to allow for GHSA passes and Fayette County passes to allow people in on that [pass list]. We’re hoping to get around 1,800 [spectators] in the building.”

Though this season will be looking very different, football is still on, and Panther nation can head to East Coweta today at 6:30 p.m. to watch the Panthers take on the Indians in their season opener. The Panthers’ home opener is scheduled for next Friday against Mt. Zion. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.