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Empty seats mark 2020 season

In normal times, a basketball game at Parkland High School is an event. The team is played onto the court by the Parkland Stage Band to the opening from the Late Show with David Letterman theme. Cheerleaders put on a near constant show and at halftime, the dance team takes to the floor to entertain the crowd. Factor in that Parkland has strong teams and the whole night is full of entertainment and big crowds come to see the game.

That was then.

In these new normal times, the stage band and dance team are gone, and cheerleaders are more limited in how much they perform. The crowds? Sparse at best, but that’s better than at most schools where fans are not allowed into the gymnasium.

“We give two tickets to each player, cheerleader and coach and we encourage them to give them to family members only,” said Parkland athletic director Bill Dreisbach. “Believe it or not, our gym is only allowed five-percent of the capacity and that includes players, referees, trainers and everybody else inside the gym.”

The policy works. Fans sit only in a designated area and only in rows marked with tape to keep everyone socially distanced.

At the very least, parents can see their kids play basketball, which is especially good for senior players.

“I think that they’ve done a good job of allowing some fans in to see games and still keeping everyone safe,” said girls coach Ed Ohlson. “It would be nice if we could just open the doors and have everything back to normal but being able to play games is something that wasn’t even guaranteed for us this season and having some fans in the gym is nice.”

Most schools have opted to not allow any fans into the gymnasium except for Senior Night when senior parents can attend and a “milestone” night when a player may be closing in on 1,000 career points or some other accolade. In those instances, the players family is permitted to attend the game.

Parkland not only has fans socially distanced but also takes every step possible to protect players, coaches, referees, and all other staff members in attendance.

The bench, normally in one long row, is now spread out with several rows reaching back nearly to the rolled-up bleachers on one side of the gym. Scorers and other essential game personnel are spread out among tables instead of normally being shoulder to shoulder.

Parkland also provides either a separate table for media or allows them to sit at tables at the top of the bleachers. Of course, everyone in the building is masked throughout the game and fans are asked to exit quickly after the game and not congregate.

“Our players adapted to everything pretty quickly this season,” Ohlson noted. “First was adjusting to wearing masks during the game and then not having many fans at the games and at most other gyms we play in, not having any fans.

“It was really a simple decision for them: either adapt to the new rules or not play and they wanted to play, so they had to accept the conditions that were put in place.”

PRESS PHOTO BY CHUCK HIXSON Parkland is allowed five percent capacity in its gym, which includes players, coaches and official. A very limited of number of tickets are allocated to players for family or friends.