Halls vs Gibbs: First football game of the season amid coronavirus pandemic

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HALLS, Tenn. (WATE) — All eyes were on the Halls vs. Gibbs football game Thursday night as it was the very first game of the season in East Tennessee since the coronavirus pandemic started.

Spencer Long, executive principal for Halls High, said the school along with the Knox County School district put many precautions in place to make the game happen.

“We’re all excited, but there’s that underlying level of anxiety with it also because of the social distancing and trying to keep our fans and students safe,” Long said.

Before going into the game, everyone got their temperature checked and masks had to be worn.

Families were asked to sit together or practice social distancing. If neither were possible, then masks were to stay on the proper way.

Social distancing markers could be found in the stands and around the stadium, such as the concession areas.

Long said concession food was also different. It was pre-packaged instead of being cooked on the spot.

To help limit how often volunteers and staff handled money, tickets were sold online in advance.

Long said they did have to limit the capacity of the stands to one-third of the usual capacity.

He said the smaller capacity was going to hurt the athletic department budget wise, but as long as students could still play and fans could watch safely, the shortfall would be worth it.

“I think if we can get through a full season, even at 1/3 capacity, we can still keep our programs afloat,” Long said.

Parents of the players were happy to follow the guidelines if it meant their children could play.

“I didn’t really think (the game) was (going to happen). I was super excited that we got here. I was actually counting down the hours knowing something could happen. But I’m so happy we’re finally here,” Amanda Cole, a parent of a Gibbs football player, said.

“The masks, trying to social distance. I noticed the band social distancing, there’s chairs here so they’re definitely trying to make it happen for the students and the players,” Michelle Shaffer, a parent of two Halls football players, said.

Although many fans were seen not following the guidelines once they entered the gates, Long said he and other staff were trying to remind the crowd to follow the safety protocols.

“We have signage up, we’re going to have people walking around reminding people, we got our security here too that’s going to help us remind people to be respectful of one another’s personal distance and try to socially distance,” Long said.

There were several signs around the stands that read “Don’t be the reason our schools close and sports are canceled…play by the rules!”

“We’re really trying to promote that safety because we want to spread the message that we can work together to allow our high school athletes to continue playing if we can prevent the spread of this disease,” Long said.

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