By D. Mark Mitchell
Opelika City Schools started school today for the 2020-21 school year. This is several days past the original start date set by Superintendent Mark Neighbors. The school system’s teachers went back the first week of August (not every day) to prepare for the opening of school with coronavirus.
State Superintendent Dr. Eric Mackey asked systems in May to push the start date back to after Labor Day so that they would have time to prepare.
Fall sports (football, volleyball, cross-country and swimming) are approaching their first games, matches and meets. The Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) has not made any changes since releasing “Best Practices” for return to play.
The Alabama Department of Public Health (ALDPH) and the AHSAA released a memo concerning attendance at athletic events.
The ALDPH said spectators will be allowed to attend football and other athletic events but the amount will be reduced significantly.
“Players, coaches, officials and spectators may not congregate within six feet of a person from another household except to the extent necessary, and only to the extent necessary for players, coaches and officials to directly participate in the athletic activity,” said ALDPH Director Scott Harris.
The six-foot distancing is impossible without reducing the number of fans allowed in stadiums and other sports venues.
Fans are required to wear masks or other facial coverings that cover the mouth and nostrils while within six feet of people not in their household. Children younger than second grade are not required to wear masks, and neither are those who have medical conditions preventing them from doing so.
Harris endorsed the AHSAA “Best Practices” for the return to play, which was “created to mitigate, not eliminate, the risk of COVID-19.” Schools were urged to “establish and follow policies for limiting event attendance in order to comply” with the current health order.
Fans must be required to wear face coverings when exiting stadiums and in the stands throughout the event. The current public health order applies to schools and school-related activities.
Common sense must be used; people with symptoms and those known to have been in contact with a person who tested positive should not attend unless 14 days have elapsed. Anyone waiting on a COVID-19 test result should not attend.
The Alabama Department of Health issued a “Back to School Toolkit,” which can be found at online (www.alabamapublichealth.gov/covid19/schools.html). You can find other information at www.alabamapublichealth.gov.
BULLDOG STADIUM ATTENDANCE
Opelika City Schools have not released the number of fans that will be allowed to attend OHS football games. If school officials decide to allow 50 percent, you can expect that between 3000 to 3500 will be allowed. The number does not include seats for the bands.
Opelika will host Lanler, Carver, Russell County and Park Crossing. The three Montgomery schools normally bring few fans, which will allow more Opelika fans to attend. Russell County normally has a small fan base, but head coach Mark Rose starts his second season, which might affect attendance.
The former Smiths Station and North Alabama coach has excited fans in Seale. This year’s home schedule is favorable for Bulldog fans planning to attend. The first home game is Sept. 4 against Lanter.
It appears that fans who want to attend Opelika games, at home or on the road, must purchase tickets online at gofan.co. This will allow schools to have an exact count on the tickets. Once the allotted amount has sold, no other tickets can be purchased.
D. Mark Mitchell is sports director for iHeart Media, Alabama Dixie Boys State Director and vice president of the A-O Sports Council.