One-to-two parents or guardians per participant’s family will be allowed to attend high school and middle school sports in Kansas starting on Thursday, Dec. 10, the KSHSAA Board of Directors decided on Tuesday.

In response to a recommendation from the KSHSAA Appeal Board, the Board of Directors changed its mind on restricting all fans from attending games amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The board, which has members from every league in the state, originally barred fans in a meeting shortly before Thanksgiving.

“It’s important that schools have a voice,” KSHSAA Executive Director Bill Faflick said. “Discerning how far to turn the dial down was important. Now we turned it up a little bit to allow parents and guardians in. The local control is still present and now at a greater level. With that comes accountability and responsibility.” 

Tuesday’s motion to allow one-to-two fans — which will be limited to parents or guardians — into gyms for winter sports was passed by a 54-24 vote.

Faflick highlighted that many other guidelines for winter sports passed by the board, including universal masking, are still in place.

“Our process is working,” Faflick said. “Our board passed a number of things on Nov. 24 that still need to be in place. The only thing addressed today was restricted attendance for spectators.

“That’s so important for anybody attending a contest. They need to be masked and wear that mask in the intent that it’s manufactured.” 

The 54-24 vote was a 180-degree turnaround from the board’s decision to bar fans several weeks ago, which was by a 51-25 margin. Mobilized groups of parents as well as the KSHAA Appeal Board have spent the last few weeks advocating for allowing fans in.

“I’m sure it impacted the vote across the state,” said Oswego High School Schneeberger, who represents the Three Rivers League on the board. 

“We went from one direction to completely another. I’m sure there was some influence that was taking place. I tried very hard to have communication with the 12 schools in the league and limit my process to what the consensus was out of those league schools, regardless of what I personally think or desire.”

According to the language of what KSHSAA passed on Tuesday, only two parents or guardians per family will be allowed in. For example, if a family has a boy’s and girl’s basketball player, that family will be restricted to two tickets versus being granted four.

Participants, according to KSHSAA, include players, coaches, student-managers, cheerleaders, dance teams, pep bands and student journalists.

Schools also have the local control to enact tougher restrictions on fans.

“This is a foundational policy,” Faflick said. “You can be more restrictive. You just cannot be more liberal than that policy.”

Faflick said after the meeting that he’s still worried about continued spread of COVID-19 throughout Kansas. According to Kansas Department of Health and Environment data, the state reported 5,730 new cases between Dec. 4-7.

“As a society, we’re not perfect,” Faflick said. “There’s evidence of community spread. We never lose sight of that data...everybody needs to be socially distanced.” 

Shane Holtzman, principal at Labette County High School and the SEK League’s rep on the KSHSAA board, changed his vote from the November meeting to align with the league’s wishes.

“Our league obviously switched the vote,” Holtzman said. “We went from nearly everybody being in favor of no fans to Independence, Fort Scott, Coffeyville and Pittsburg being in favor of the Appeal Board’s proposal.” 

However, Holtzman personally disagreed with letting fans in.

“It wasn’t what I felt like was best right now,” Holtzman said. “I don’t want people to think we’re taking something from them. But our job is students first. We want them to continue to have these opportunities. I want my kid in practice, games, on those bus rides and around those coaches. Whether I see him perform or not is where those life lessons are learned.” 

Schneeberger also voted against allowing fans in.

“The Three Rivers League was in favor of delaying the introduction of spectators until after Christmas,” Schneeberger said. “The vote didn’t go that way, so that’s fine. Everybody will move forward. We were in favor of introducing fans incrementally. But the consensus of the state was to start that on Thursday.” 

Schools will have two days to brace for an influx of fans into winter sports throughout Kansas.

“We’re going to meet now to come up with a plan on how to handle who’s getting in and how we keep track of that,” Holtzman said. “We’ll finalize that plan and send that out and we’ll have ballgames here Thursday night with parents and guardians in attendance.” 

While parents are now allowed back into high school gyms across Kansas, the pandemic and preserving full seasons is still the top priority for schools.

“That’s the concern,” Faflick said. “That’s why attendance will continue to be restricted. With smaller crowds, they’ll be easier to manage.”

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