WHS winter sports to open this weekend without fans in attendance

Emma Frey | @_emmafrey_

Tonight’s season opening basketball game against Axtell will be a lot quieter than usual.

Due to statewide precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19, no spectators will be allowed to attend winter sporting events until at least the end of January.

KSHSAA’s Board of Directors met virtually last week to discuss the upcoming winter sports season and make adjustments surrounding the recent climb in COVID cases in the state of Kansas. 

Although a proposal would have delayed the start of winter sports to the end of January, the board voted to continue with the sports season on time, starting December 1. There will be a mandatory but extended moratorium from from December 22 to January 8, which may affect some early games next semester.

The biggest change to the season is rules surrounding spectators. At this time, no spectators are allowed to attend sporting events for junior high or high school. This restriction will stretch to January 28, when the board will revisit the decision. 

This decision by the board has been appealed, and a hearing will be held today (December 4). Although it is being appealed, the board will ultimately have the final say in the decision.

Though no spectators will be allowed, band and cheerleaders will be permitted to perform at games, though this is up to the discretion of each individual school. According to athletic director Jaron Weisshaar, WHS plans to allow these events to continue throughout the season. 

Other changes included mandatory masks for anyone except active participants and officials, and limits on the number of participating teams allowed at an event, which will mostly affect wrestling and basketball tournaments. KSHSAA made modifications to each individual sport, such as the elimination of handshakes and an opening jump ball in basketball. 

See the full list of considerations for basketball, wrestling, pep band and spirit at kshsaa.org.

Head basketball coaches Trevor Keller and Christian Ulsaker agree that though the game itself will continue almost as normal, the lack of support for the players is an unusual and disappointing situation. 

“The only change that has impacted play on the court is the elimination of the jump ball to start the game. I believe the greatest difference between this year and previous years will be playing without fans,” Keller said in an email. “It is extremely unfortunate that KSHSAA made the decision to eliminate fans until at least January 28th. I am hopeful that after KSHSAA holds an appeal hearing on Friday December 4th, a revision to the fan attendance policy happens and at a minimum parents are allowed to attend games.”

“The rules to the game itself won’t have much effect on the overall game play,” Ulsaker said, “I truly wish parents would be able to watch their sons play the game they love. I hope the band and cheerleaders are extra loud during our game. That could be a big home court advantage having a rowdy band section!”

Senior basketball player Madison Wertzberger says the season will likely be the same for her, but that the lack of spectators is disheartening. “It’s really disappointing that my parents can’t come watch me play my senior year,” Wertzberger said. 

In an article published in the Topeka Capital Journal, KSHSAA executive director Bill Faflick commented on the board’s decision. “It has been emotion and emotional every time there’s been restrictions put in place where people haven’t been able to attend contests involving their kids, alma mater or favorite school,” Faflick said. “We’ve seen that through the fall. But something’s not working because community spread is continuing… We’ve got to start somewhere. Can we dial it back eventually? Certainly that’s a possibility. But right now the board has deemed that the cleanest, safest way to do this based on what doctors are saying is this is primarily a disease that is spread through adults and their interactions and if we can limit those interactions we will be better for that.”

Although Charger fans can’t attend the games in person, all home and league events can still be streamed online through the NFHS network. Subscription information can be found at usd329.com.

Basketball vs. Axtell begins with JV games at 4:45, followed by both varsity contests. Wrestling opens the season at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow with a quad at home against Sabetha, Abilene and Ottawa.

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