The KSHSAA Appeal Board is recommending that one-to-two fans per participant be allowed to attend high school and middle school winter sports in Kansas.
The board met on Friday and overwhelmingly voted 7-1 in favor of allowing one or two back into school gyms. The appeal board’s recommendation will be sent to the KSHSAA Board of Directors, composed of representatives from every league in the state. That board will meet on Tuesday to make a final determination.
“The system works as it’s intended to work,” KSHSAA Executive Director Bill Faflick said. “There’s always due process involved with every decision. The opportunity for a second look at this item is appropriate. We’ll see what the Board of Directors does.”
Faflick argued in favor of the ban on fans until at least Jan. 28, a decision made by the BOD right before Thanksgiving. That decision was part of a compromise to allow the basketball, wrestling and other winter sports seasons to start on time.
"No one likes the rules that have been adopted by our Board of Directors, but felt they were necessary,” Faflick said in the meeting.
The KSHSAA BOD will meet on Tuesday at 1 p.m. to receive the Appeal Board’s recommendation.
“The board has latitude in that area,” Faflick said. “This is just a recommendation. They’ll make the final determination on Tuesday. It could change to one-to-two. It could change to local control. It could change to one. They could also put periods of time on it. I don’t know what they’ll do.”
Mike Kastle, a USD 503 Parsons board member who serves on both KSHSAA’s Executive Board and the BOD, said he believes pressure from constituents and the appeal board will sway enough votes.
“There’s been a lot of vote changing,” Kastle said. “I think 14 to 15 votes can change very quickly. That’s just my gut feeling.”
One of the three appellate groups on the meeting was Chad Boaz, the president of the USD 101 Erie school board, and his wife Alyssa.
Alyssa Boaz argued that KSHSAA overstepped its bounds when prohibiting all fans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"KSHSAA is not a health organization. It does not have an obligation to protect spectators from themselves or the choices they make in regards to their health,” Alyssa Boaz said.
Faflick fired back at that assertion.
“Anything that impact schools that is a direct result of activities is something appropriate to be involved with,” Faflick said. “We have rules about number of games and seasons starting and ending. That includes crowd limits.”
Adults have been the largest contributors to the spread of COVID-19, according to KDHE data. Longterm care facilities, corrections facilities, meatpacking plants, private businesses and colleges account for 81% of cases of COVID-19 in Kansas. Those are all places made up almost exclusively of adults.
Adults have had more impact. They are more prone to the illness. We're not trying to save the adults from themselves,” Faflick said, “they impact others with their decisions when they're in large crowds.
"Bottom line, indoor public gatherings lead to community spread. Not a single mitigation protocol works...all of those basics have to be in place. They're being compromised because we see spread continuing."
While parents and fans have been among the most vocal critics of KSHSAA’s decision to restrict fans for nearly two months, some administrators believe that keeping them out for now is the safest choice to preserve winter sports.
“I feel really good about the decision-making process to get to this point,” said Labette County High School principal Shane Holtzman, who represents the SEK League on the KSHSAA BOD. “With COVID, it’s constantly changing. If we knew back in March what we know now? We would’ve had spring sports. We know more now. Based on the information we have and what we know, I don’t think it’s prudent to have fans.”
Holtzman said while most fans follow health guidelines including mask-wearing and social distancing, it’s those that don’t that present the most risk.
“Based on what I’ve seen throughout the fall where there have been mask mandates in place,” Holtzman said, “there are people that are not going to follow it. They’re not going to socially distance. That’s from firsthand experience. 80% of our people do a great job. But is it 100%? No.”
The issue of legal liability was a point of contention during Friday’s meeting — would KSHSAA or schools be more liable if an athlete is injured while their parents were restricted from attending a game?
Faflick said during the meeting that KSHSAA was advised by legal counsel that there wasn’t any additional liability.
“Waivers are in place as part of a physical exam,” Faflick said after the meeting. “We have mitigation strategies in place because you never know if parents will be there. And the majority of that time is practice, and parents generally aren’t at practice. So schools are capable of exercising that care for kids.”
Faflick wasn’t surprised by the fact that the decision on no fans was brought before an appeals process.
“We certainly knew that it was a highly emotional decision,” Faflick said. “We didn’t know what the recommendation would be when it went to the appeal board.”
How Tuesday’s meeting with the BOD goes is the next step in evaluating the presence of fans in the stands this winter season.
I know a few leagues will change their votes. There’s a lot of people getting a lot of pressure from a lot of parents,” Holtzman said. “I’ll check with my league again on Monday. But I think the vote will be very close.”