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KSHSAA Board of Directors votes to increase spectator limits to four

Brent Maycock
Hays Daily News

Spectator restrictions at winter high school sporting events will take on a new look starting Jan. 29.

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At Wednesday’s special Kansas State High School Activities Association Board of Directors meeting, new limitations were placed on its member schools. The board voted 46-27 to pass a motion set forth last week by the KSHSAA Executive Board to allow four spectators per participant at events beginning Jan. 29 and continuing through the remainder of the regular season.

Currently, no more than two parents or guardians per participant are allowed at high school events, with those limitations in place until Jan. 28, as voted on by the KSHSAA BOD in December.

The new limitations will not only allow more spectators, but also remove the designation as to who they will be. Spectators now can be parents/guardians, other family members or students with no restrictions on who may fill the allotted four spots per participant.

“This was seen as turning the dial up a little bit, but not totally turning it wide open,” KSHSAA Executive Director Bill Faflick said. “It will allow a little bit broader audience where it’s appropriate to do so. We heard from a number of extended families, non-traditional families, grandparents who are care-givers of older siblings and other school-aged siblings who would like to attend events. Not everybody that wants to get into a game will have that opportunity to do so. But it was a question of what is the point of compromise that we can hit that balance of maintaining school health and community health so schools can stay open and instruction can continue and still allow that experience to occur.”

Had the board voted against the motion, fan limitations would have been left up to local control. And that was clearly an option many leagues across the state were interested in seeing in place.

“Obviously a gym in Dodge City, Wichita or Shawnee Mission is going to be able to hold more people than a gym in say Ingalls or Bucklin or any other small town,” Dodge City athletic director Justin Briggs said. “Four people per student-athlete in Ingalls may be capacity in a small gym but four people per student-athlete in our gym won’t even fill our student section. I just want to put it out there that local control is a better option than just putting four out there.”

Other leagues shared similar sentiments.

“We had a league meeting last week and came up with our own policy on how we would handle this whenever it came on Jan. 29,” said Frankfort principal Dean Dalinghaus, representing the Twin Valley League. “We’d just like to see it go back to local control and figure out how it works best at each gym or facility to let more people back into the game.”

Others, however, saw the four-spectator limit as being a reasonable step from the current limit of two.

“What that speaks to me is saying is it gives us a ceiling as to what we would allow,” Cheney principal Greg Rosenhagen of the Central Plains League said. “I think our students deserve the opportunity to experience these events whether that’s as a student body or as active players, cheer or band. The four spectators gives you your ceiling and locally you can decide how many of those are we going to give to our students or to family members. ... To me that’s the local control you do have. It just helps keep that ceiling.

“I went to many places this fall where I don’t know that I was totally comfortable with the crowd because social distancing wasn’t being practiced at all and it made me a little uneasy. The local control I get, but it also concerns me because different communities see that quite differently.”

School districts will still have the option to be more restrictive in allowing spectators to their events.

Hays High School released a statement Wednesday night saying its administration will further discuss the issue before making a decision on spectator changes. 

"We are in the process of discussing how it will look at home events while taking into consideration the total number of participants who can attend, the amounts of tickets that could be given out per participant, and still adhere to social distancing guidelines," the statement read. "It isn't a slam dunk yet."

With the passing of the motion, Faflick re-itterated that mask mandates and social distancing policies will remain in effect at all high school events.

“With this action, local control is still absolutely appropriate and if you’re not ready for more in your facility, that’s your call,” Faflick said. “It come down to our schools acting with fidelity without any compromise of the expectation of universal masking, for all of those who are coming into your facility except for those that are engaged in active play. ... Likewise social distancing is necessary for folks in our gym as well as continuing appropriate hygiene.”

HDN staff contributed to this report.