Welcome back, high school sports fans. It’s been a while.
For the first time in 12 months, spectators are permitted to attend high school sporting events — on a limited basis.
Section XI, Suffolk County’s interscholastic governing body, issued guidelines March 2 allowing limited spectators for the fall sports season that began with practices March 1 and runs through April 25. No more than two spectators per athlete are allowed, and for the indoor fall sports of badminton, girls swimming and boys and girls volleyball, visiting spectators are not allowed. Section XI noted that individual schools may be more restrictive in their own policies, and information about the spring season will be forthcoming as that season approaches.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Greenport athletic director Chris Golden said. “Listen, every adjective that comes out of my mouth is just going to be like, ‘This is fantastic. This is great. This is tremendous.’ ”
After playing in a 4-0 season-opening boys soccer loss before fans at Eastport-South Manor High School Monday, Mattituck midfielder/center back Bryan Soto said: “It always makes a difference with the fans. You just like the noise. You like having people there, watching you.”
The truncated fall season also includes boys and girls cross country, boys golf, girls soccer, field hockey, football and girls tennis.
A chart on sectionxi.org shows 26 of 54 Suffolk high schools allowing visiting spectators at outdoor sporting events this season. Greenport, Mattituck, Shoreham-Wading River and Southold are among those giving the OK to visiting fans.
“We have to crawl before we walk here,” SWR athletic director Mark Passamonte said. “We have to ease back into it.”
Passamonte noted that his school will permit only one spectator per athlete for volleyball matches. “It’s going to be a standing-room-only situation,” he said. “We won’t have the bleachers pulled out.”
Southold doesn’t host any indoor teams this season. Athletic director Steve Flanagan said his school didn’t want to prevent fans from local rivals Mattituck and Greenport from watching their boys soccer teams play in Southold.
Flanagan said he was taken aback by the Section XI announcement “because I thought we should just focus on getting kids on the field and surviving, but you got to move forward in anything. I was grateful just to have sports in general, but as long as it’s outside and we stay far apart, we’ll be all right.”
Greenport had changed its mind after initially saying it wasn’t going to allow visiting fans to its outdoor events and limiting its home girls volleyball spectators to the parents of its six seniors on that team. It reconsidered on both counts, and now two spectators per volleyball player are permitted.
Golden said: “At the end of the day, would we love to accommodate everybody? Yes, and we’ll get to that, but right now it’s really what’s best for our community, our parents of our playing athletes and really the school as a whole. It’s that simple.”
Passamonte, asked if he foresees complications or problems with the spectators policy, answered: “It’s hard to say. I just I hope that people are respectful and, ultimately, if they can’t follow the rules that we’re expecting, what society is expecting, then they have to leave, you know? We’ll have to ask them to leave, but I’m hoping that’s not the case. I hope that everyone just respects it. I mean, you got to wear a mask going to the grocery store. You got to wear it coming to a soccer game.”
Attempts to arrange an interview with Mattituck athletic director Gregg Wormuth were unsuccessful.
“If you would have asked me who took the brunt of the restrictions and the regulations, it’s the kids,” Golden said. “It’s the kids. To me, I don’t want to use the word suffer, but they experienced, I think, the greatest loss of what they were used to doing.
“We’re seeing the kids, they’re happy, they’re smiling, they’re playing, they’re getting back into it. That for me, by far and away, that’s the best thing about this school year right now.”