Small crowds return to high school sports events

The Weiser High gym was like a library. And it was game night.

In years past, this meant packed bleachers rocking with boisterous crowds cheering at every basket.

But this year, amid a global pandemic, game night just isn’t the same. It’s relatively quiet with only two guests per player allowed, sitting in pre-marked spots to promote social distancing. A gym that used to host a 1,000 now hosts less than 70.

“I want our band here rocking. I want our 30 cheerleaders here cheering. I want our student sections here. But we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to do this,” said Weiser High School basketball coach Brad Adolfson.

Severe restrictions for basketball games and other high school sports are necessary this winter season if students want to compete. Idaho high school sporting events are required to follow Gov. Brad Little’s orders that limit the number of participants and spectators to avoid the spread of COVID-19. If schools do not follow the orders, games or seasons could be forfeited.

So in Weiser on a Tuesday night, school administrators were complying.

The gym at Weiser High School, which seats about 1,000 in its bleachers, was down to about 65 spectators during the game against Fruitland on Tuesday, Jan. 12. Nik Streng/Idaho EdNews

Limiting attendance for fans and players wasn’t the only restriction.  Rules in place at Weiser High on Tuesday included:

  • separate entrances and bathrooms for home and away fans
  • facial coverings
  • complete emptying of the gym between games
  • seating spots for parents and media marked on the bleachers.

Fruitland won the rivalry game 69-58, but the small and quiet crowd didn’t signify the closeness of the game, that was within two points heading into the final quarter. During a normal year, a score that close against perennial 3A powerhouse Fruitland would be met with a roaring crowd.

Weiser, like most teams in Idaho, spent the first nine games of the season playing in empty gyms. A Jan. 5 game against Emmett was Weiser’s first opportunity to have a home crowd — small as it was. Adolfson said it is strange to play games in empty gyms, but he’s happy to have a season.

Weiser senior guard Eli Ruiz said the Wolverines struggled with intensity while playing in empty gyms.

“It was harder to get ourselves pumped up for the games,” he said.

Weiser’s Eli Ruiz, right, drives in with the ball as Fruitland’s Tyler Capps defends during the Grizzlies’ win over the Wolverines on Tuesday, Jan. 12. Nik Streng/Idaho EdNews

Adolfson added he’s grateful that players’ parents are able to attend the games now, but knows that playing in Weiser’s loud gym is a big part of why players want to join the varsity basketball team in the first place.

“My kids deserve to have those fans here cheering for them,” Adolfson said. “Our kids deserve that. They’ve worked  since they were third graders.”

And with even the small crowd of fans in attendance now, Ruiz said he feels a big difference in the game environment. “I feel like we can bring the game now.”

Another big change for Weiser has been the restrictions to cheerleaders, allowing six at games. Weiser’s cheerleading team, which has won the last two team state championships, has over 30 members and nine seniors this year.

Tuesday was the first time this winter that Weiser cheerleaders were at a basketball game. Senior Reagan Doty said the vibe in the gym was very different without a large group of cheerleaders, which usually take up multiple rows in the student section and keep the crowd cheering for the entire game.

The Weiser cheerleading team, which has over 30 members, is only allowed to have six at basketball games, per the governor’s order. Nik Streng/Idaho EdNews

“It’s a bummer that the rest of my team couldn’t be here,” Doty said. “Hopefully later down the road we could get more of the cheerleaders here. But I’m just grateful to be here in person and cheering on my team and having fun.”

Nik Streng

Nik Streng


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