Football fans filed into the stadium at Shelley High School this week for some Friday night lights.
Except it was Saturday, and about half of the seats for the Shelley Russets varsity game against the visiting Blackfoot Broncos were still empty at kickoff.
The delayed game and spotty attendance were byproducts of high school football season fraught with limited crowds, travel and opponents.
Blackfoot missed its last game after a coach tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, seven of the team’s offensive linemen had to quarantine after possible exposure to the virus. No practices. No games.
Shelley’s coaches agreed to push the game to Saturday, so the players could meet their two-week quarantine requirement and suit up for the matchup.
Meanwhile, Saturday’s waning attendance was actually up from past games, Shelley Superintendent Chad Williams told me just before half time. “We’ve been at about 40 percent capacity.”
Both Blackfoot and Shelley have capped ticket sales for past games to keep crowd sizes down during the pandemic.
Blackfoot athletic director Cody Shelley estimated an attendance drop of some 700 people per game from last year’s Friday nights at his home field.
Lifting restrictions for Saturday’s game helped the crowds swell to well over half capacity on both sides of the field by the third quarter.
“The goal tonight is to keep attendance low enough that if everyone separated they’d have at least six feet between them,” said Williams.
The district missed that target, and some fans showed up with added precautions of their own. One couple cheered through face masks on lawn chairs on the track.
Shelley High School vice principal Courtney Markham acknowledged the hurt COVID-19 has put on fall sports, but she stressed that “kids are resilient.”
“They are still finding ways to have fun,” she said.
Moments earlier, Shelley’s cheerleaders finished a COVID-themed cheer: “Quarantine, q-q-q-quarantine, back up, back up.”
A banner below the student section ruffled in the wind: “We searched Google and still couldn’t find any competition.”
Shelley’s athletes and coaches have been fortunate to avoid a potential outbreak, Williams said. “We’ve dodged a bullet.”
He wondered what challenges indoor sports would bring in the coming months.
“We haven’t had a problem here — yet,” he said.