Girls basketball caught in crossfire of crowd-size discussion

High school girls district basketball tournament crowds have been limited to 300 fans as hosts adhere to strict safety guidelines to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

The crowd limit, which is below what Gov. Brad Little ordered, was set by the Idaho High School Activities Association, the governing group for all high school sports, in conjunction with the host sites. Some lawmakers want to lift crowd limitations like the one set by the IHSAA.

On Wednesday the Idaho House passed House Concurrent Resolution 5, which would repeal public health limits on crowds and gatherings, including for school sports. The resolution heads to the Senate for consideration next.

Boise High coach Kim Brydges is more concerned about safety than crowd sizes.

Her team plays West Ada’s Mountain View High this Friday for the 5A District III championship. Each school is limited to 150 tickets to keep the crowd small at Eagle High School. Attendance will be far below the state ordered 40 percent capacity and Brydges isn’t complaining.

“This might be unpopular, but I really just want to finish the season in a happy and healthy way,” Brydges said.

Some lawmakers are trying to lift the governor’s cap on crowd sizes. Last week, House State Affairs Chairman Brent Crane, R-Nampa, and Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, co-sponsored a bill that would nullify a state cap on crowd sizes.

Crane said he was made aware of the IHSAA’s attendance plan, which would allow 300 spectators (150 tickets per team) for the district tournaments. For the upcoming state tournament at the Ford Idaho Center (with a capacity that ranges from 9,700 to 13,067), attendance will be capped at 1,800 spectators (900 tickets per team).

Following the girls basketball state tournament will be the culminating events for boys basketball and wrestling, which will have the same crowd limitations.

With those numbers well below 40 percent, Crane responded with legislation.

But Brydges said she’s enjoying the limited crowds, which minimize the spread of COVID-19.

“What we’ve done for districts, I felt safe,” Brydges said. “I really don’t feel comfortable packing the gyms. If they want it to be safe, they can do that with limited fans.”

Brydges has been supporting safer playing environments all season. The Brave well know how COVID-19 can put an end to sports, as all Boise School District teams were unable to start the season until the new year.

On Feb. 5, the Brave had their 25th practice of the season. They would have 50 by this point in a normal season. Friday’s game will be Boise’s 13th of the season. Mountain View, which has been playing since Dec. 4, will be playing its 19th.

Brydges said small crowds have not affected her players. “We’re used to not needing a big crowd to fire us up,” she said.

But Brydges said that lawmakers are losing sight of what’s most important in high school athletics.

“I’m sorry that it’s become politicized,” she said.

The IHSAA responded to the proposed legislation with a letter to its member schools, explaining the attendance cap. The letter explains that if the IHSAA moved up to the full 40 percent capacity for basketball and wrestling, venues would be unwilling to host the events. If the venues were moved to other areas of the state, there are schools who would not participate “due to the lack of COVID restrictions in place.”

The 2021 wrestling state tournament will be held at the Idaho Center and competing wrestlers will each get two tickets.

The IHSAA said it is important to have the Idaho Center for state basketball tournaments so student-athletes can play under the bright lights.

“Our State Tournament committee feels that denying students the opportunity to play and compete in such a venue outweighs the option to move to smaller venues,” the letter states.

On Monday, the State Board of Education released an updated activities plan  that allows other extracurricular activities to follow the same 40 percent guidelines for attendance that has been previously granted to sports. These competitions, which range from band and choir to academic teams and clubs, can take place in venues like school common areas, auditoriums, lunchrooms and classrooms and it is up to the host administration to confirm the capacity for the area.

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