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Empty gyms are new normal

The term new normal is very apparent in gymnasiums across the area as schools adapt to COVID-19 restrictions put in place by the state. While players have had to deal with wearing masks even while in the game, parents have had to adapt to not getting to see their kids play games.

At Northwestern Lehigh, the gym doesn’t look like it normally would for basketball, with one side of the bleachers rolled back tightly against the wall and chairs for the players being spread out where the bleachers would normally be.

The only fans that have been allowed to watch a game were the parents and family of senior players when they were saluted on Senior Night. Other than that, it’s just school and team officials, referees and media, along with players, coaches and trainers. For a school that generally has better than average fan support, the fact that the bleachers aren’t even needed is quite an adjustment.

Girls basketball senior Caitlyn Miller would like to have fans in attendance because of the added excitement that they bring to a game and just the fact that it would be nice to have her family there for her senior season of basketball. She understands the restrictions and she and her teammates have taken things into their own hands to provide the background noise for games.

“We just decided that when we’re on the bench we’re going to yell and cheer and make as much noise as possible to cheer on our team,” said Miller. “We normally cheer, but we’re a little louder and emphatic about it now because there aren’t fans there.”

While Miller and some other players miss having the fans cheering during the game, other players haven’t noticed the change quite as much and have adapted to a much quieter type of game. On the boys team, senior Andres Garrido has adjusted to the empty seats and the new normal.

“I generally try to block out the crowd and just focus on the game, so it hasn’t been too much of an adjustment,” Garrido said. “I guess I noticed it at first but it’s like everything else, you just adapt to it and play the game.”

In a recent close game at Salisbury, the absence of fans may have been somewhat of a benefit. The game, which Northwestern Lehigh won 40-38, came down to a three-point attempt at the buzzer by Salisbury’s Quintin Stephens, but with only senior parents in attendance because of Senior Night festivities, the gym was relatively quiet in those final tense moments.

“In a game like this you really miss that crowd noise,” said Northwestern head coach Jerry Lloyd. “You can never know for sure, but if the gym is full of parents and students yelling, it could have given them more momentum throughout the game. The fans at home help to give us that home court advantage, which we feel is important for our team. On the road, when most of the fans would be for the other school, maybe it’s an advantage at least a little.”

Generally, the game goes on as usual. The national anthem is played, the starting lineups are introduced, and each basket and foul is announced over the gymnasium speakers. It’s all done to keep the games as normal as possible even though with the addition of masks and socially distanced teammates on the bench and the subtraction of fans, the scene is nothing near normal.

Girls coach Chris Deutsch, who also serves as the school’s assistant athletic director, believes that the players are adaptable enough to make the best of the situation.

“I think the fact that we’ve been able to just play as many games as we have is great for the kids,” Deutsch said. “I know the masks and not having fans at the games isn’t perfect, but for the girls, they realized early on that playing games even with all of the changes and restrictions was better than not having a season, so they’ve accepted it all.”

PRESS PHOTO BY CHUCK HIXSON Northwestern, like many schools, keeps the bleachers stacked during basketball games this year because of the extremely limited number of fans that are allowed in the games.