NDHSAA Board sets crowd limitations for prep winter sports due to COVID-19
VALLEY CITY, N.D. — The North Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors approved Tuesday, Nov. 24, updated guidelines for winter sports amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The regulations include regular-season crowd limitations that are in line with the North Dakota Smart Restart protocols for large gatherings. The Board approved the updated guidelines and recommendations by an 8-1 vote during a virtual meeting. Bismarck Legacy athletic director Paul Jundt was the lone Board member to vote against the updated regulations.
“I think in the fall it was more guidance for schools where now I think being indoors from what we’ve learned about COVID is a totally different ballgame than being outdoors,” NDHSAA executive director Matt Fetsch said.
The crowd limitations are dependent on the state’s COVID-19 risk dial. For orange or high risk, there would be a limit of 50 fans. For yellow or moderate risk, there would be a limit of 100 fans. For green or low risk, there would be a limit of 200 fans. For blue or new normal, there would be normal attendance limits. The state is currently at orange or high risk for COVID-19.
“I think if you ask most member schools, they want guidance on what attendance should look like and feel like,” said board member Guy Fridley, who is the athletic director at Dickinson High School. “I think that’s our responsibility as a board.”
During the meeting, Jundt said he was “wary” that the board would make mandates on things like attendance. His concern is the board might have to enforce those updated regulations and hand out potential penalties if they aren't followed.
“I’m not sure why we would need to take a stand on that,” Jundt said. “I would expect that everybody would follow them, the guidelines the way they are written.”
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum recently announced the winter sports season would be paused until Dec. 14 due to rising COVID-19 numbers. That was later amended to allow sports teams to start practices Nov. 30 and start playing games Dec. 14.
“I think all of our No. 1 goal is to be able to get to the postseason,” Fridley said. “I think anything we can do to get to that point … that’s all we want. That’s all our kids want, that’s all our coaches and parents want is to find a way to get to next week.”
Fetsch said crowd size could vary among school districts as the winter season progresses if COVID-19 risk levels change in different areas of the state. He added schools also have the option to be “more stringent” on crowd limitations.
“I think what we’ve learned is we’ll do whatever is needed to adapt to keep things as safe as possible for all those involved and we’ll figure it out,” Fetsch said.
Recent NDSHAA events like the Dakota Bowl and state volleyball tournaments, that were both played in the Fargodome, were allowed to have more fans since larger venues like the Fargodome have different attendance guidelines.
Board member Todd Bertsch, the principal at Fargo South, said the Fargo Schools have been proactive in trying to provide a safe environment for their athletes while also taking measures to help minimize exposure and possible spread of COVID-19.
“We’re very fortunate at this point that we are still able to have the state tournaments that we just wrapped up here,” Bertsch said. “With the opportunity to start practice now on Nov. 30 with contests starting on Dec. 14, we are again fortunate that competitions and practices and seasons will be able to progress at this time.”
The updated guidelines also have masks being required at all times during practices and games with a few exceptions. One of the exceptions is when athletes are engaged in a “level of exertion that makes it difficult to wear.”
Fetsch said during the fall season, however, some athletes wore masks during competition.
“They’re some teams, they were masked all the time even when they were competing and that may become the norm as the winter goes on,” Fetsch said. “We’ll see.”