Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier sports editor
The Southern Athletic Association (SAA) recently announced new guidelines for their conference members, which give them the option of hosting a greater number of spectators at their home venues. As a result, Berry now allows parents to attend all outdoor athletic events as long as they adhere to COVID-19 regulations.
Director of athletics Angel Mason said the change came into effect a few weeks ago and has been successful so far.
“We’ve been doing that for a couple of weeks and it’s been going well,” Mason said. “We have markings for where people can be seated, keeping social distance, and so we’re separating family members from the Berry community. That’s our main caveat with that, but it’s been going well and we haven’t had any issues as far as having that amount of individuals on campus. We’re only limited by space for the different venues, so like baseball or softball are more limited than soccer or lacrosse.”
As with the updated visitation policies applicable to all Berry students, student-athletes who wish for their family to attend their games must submit a visitor request 48 hours prior to the event, and are limited to two guests at a time. Once at the game, families will not be permitted physical contact with their student-athlete and will be required to watch from a designated seating area separate from that of the Berry community, which is reserved for Berry students, faculty and staff.
Game-day supervisor Jamal Ware, junior, said his game-day operations staff ensures parents sit in the appropriate section when they arrive.
“I usually have somebody sitting at [the event], two people max, to make sure that we have it blocked off for the parents and students,” Ware said. “It’s six feet apart, to make sure there’s no infections, especially between parents that come from off campus and students that live on campus.”
Among other roles, the game-day operations staff is also responsible to remind those in attendance to follow COVID-19 guidelines, including the use of masks. If a spectator is not wearing their mask or doing so improperly, Mason said that either she or the staff would make sure to let them know.
“We just kindly go into those sections where we see people consistently leaving their mask down or off and remind them that we are a fully masked campus and that they need to put on their face covering, whether it be their shield, gaiter, whatever the case may be,” Mason said. “And people are good about doing so.”
Ware agreed that fans following protocol had not been a major issue of late. While there were a few issues in the beginning where fans were not being as careful as required, he said that once his staff started intervening, these individuals quickly learned to be COVID-19 compliant.
Because the seating areas for parents and students are distinct, Mason said the new policy does not impact the number of seats available to members of the Berry community. So far, game-day staff has not had to turn any students away due to limited space, though a few parents have had to bring their own chairs, according to Mason.
“We have not had any of that for the Berry side; we have had it on the parent side, which has informed them that they have to be on the fence line,” Mason said. “But I’ve sent emails directly to the parents of all our student-athletes of our outdoor sports that have capacity issues, so they are aware that they need to bring their own seating.”
Mason said stricter regulations prohibiting outside visitors remain in place for indoor events, as there is less space for social distancing in these venues. However, senior volleyball players will be able to have their parents attend their senior day, as was the case for the seniors on both basketball teams as well.
The other restriction that remains in place concerns fans of opposition teams, who are still not permitted on Berry’s campus. The only exception to this rule, according to Mason, is for championship events.
“Where the biggest differential is, is we will not allow opposing school spectators or parents to be able to come on our campus as of yet, with the exception of championships,” Mason said. “That’s the one place where we’re trying to allow the student-athletes to have the support from everybody. So we hosted cross country championships, and so each of the student-athletes of the opposing schools was allowed to have two family members attend.”
All of this could change in the future, as Mason said Berry and the SAA are constantly reviewing their protocols.
“We continue to monitor the situation on our campus and in the community, and then our conference as a whole regularly reviews our numbers,” Mason said. “Every week we report numbers around positive tests in your community, what status the different communities are in, and as we do that we have conversations about what else we can offer up or how we can change our percentages. For us, right now, we are functioning at 35% of our capacities. That could change in a couple of weeks, and we may be able to be at 50% capacity, but it just continues to be reviewed. As much as we can offer opportunities, especially for our students to have space to engage on campus, we’ll continue to do that.”