MONTICELLO — A March 2 post from the Illinois Association of School Administrators’ Twitter account indicates the organization was “collecting signatures of school admins who support loosening COVID restrictions at K-12 extracurricular events.”
“More than 180 have signed in less than an hour,” the tweet continues.
This hinted to Monticello athletic director Dan Sheehan that the 50-spectator limit placed upon all IHSA events — an Illinois Department of Public Health-mandated rule made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic — might not last much longer in that format.
“I really wasn’t stressing the 50, because I felt it wasn’t if it was going to change. It was a matter of when it was going to change,” Sheehan said.
That change arrived Monday, when the IHSA announced fan attendance at outdoor sporting events can increase to 20 percent facility capacity in regions operating within Phase 4 of the IDPH’s COVID-19 mitigations.
This update, made in coordination with the latest IHSA Board of Directors meeting on the same day, also appears on the IDPH COVID-19 all-sports policy webpage.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” Sheehan said. “I feel confident we can pull this off.”
The first test of that will be offered by boys’ soccer and football. Matches in the latter sport begin locally on Tuesday, while March 19 is the kickoff date for this year’s six-week football season.
Sheehan said initial estimations suggest the Sages could permit up to 100 spectators at a boys’ soccer contest and up to 600 home fans and 100 visiting fans at a football game.
Spectators do not include athletes, coaches, officials, event staff, cheer squads or the media
“This is huge. This is a big deal,” Sheehan said. “The one group ... I’m ecstatic about is my students. I hope to sell 100 student tickets. They’ve missed out on proms, homecomings, parades, every club and organization.”
Monticello hosted fan-attended junior high baseball and softball games last fall, which was permitted prior to a November shutdown of all youth athletics by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Sheehan said this gave school officials a leg up in determining the capacity of a given athletic facility beyond how many people a set of bleachers can hold.
Sheehan said the school kept fans 12 feet from all athletes during those games and is planning on using a similar baseline for its outdoor high school events unless told otherwise by the IDPH and IHSA.
“I’m very excited to allow the opportunity to carry this over into spring and summer,” Sheehan said.
As far as making sure an increased spectator population abides by necessary COVID-19 safety protocols after entering a facility, Sheehan is hopeful increased signage and presale of all tickets will help the Monticello staff.
“At the end of the day, we’re asking for support from our fans and visiting fans,” Sheehan said. “The last thing we want is to get in a situation where we’re shut down.”
Indoor sports, including volleyball and wrestling, still must follow the 50-spectator limit at this time. Sheehan said he figures the Illinois State Board of Education would need to be involved in order for indoor activities — also including fine-arts events — to see a spectator increase similar to what outdoor events are being afforded.
“I 100 percent understand why it hasn’t changed yet,” Sheehan said. “I do think there’s a chance for that to happen by May for our students.”