Summit High sports to permit limited spectators after coordinated push by parents

Parents will be symptom and temperature checked, assigned seats

Jac Crowe, from left, and Mac Scroggins prepare to check into the game while Ephraim Overstreet watches during the Tigers varsity boys basketball team's home loss versus Steamboat Springs on Tuesday, Feb. 23. Beginning Thursday, Feb. 25, a limited number of parent spectators will be able to watch their children play at home games.
Photo by Jeff Scroggins

After a coordinated push by local parents, Summit High School sporting events will have a limited number of parents spectating at home games beginning Thursday, Feb. 25.

The school announced the change to its novel coronavirus regulations in a letter to families Wednesday. The letter stated attendance will be limited to household adult family members, such as a parent or guardian, and the number of spectators per athlete will be communicated to coaches “in the near future.”

The school will regulate attendance via gate lists coordinated through coaching staff in conjunction with the school’s athletics office. Further COVID-19 rules regulating attendance include all spectators being screened for symptoms of COVID-19, checked for a temperature upon entering, required to wear a face mask at all times and assigned seats. The letter also discourages spectators from yelling or cheering due to increased risk of viral spread.

The school’s announcement comes after more than a dozen parents of high school student-athletes sent numerous letters and emails to high school, Summit School District and Summit County Public Health officials in recent weeks asking the entities why parents could not attend games and if it would be possible to change the regulation.

Katie Garvert, who has two daughters who play basketball at the high school, was a coordinator of the letter campaign and said she is grateful for the regulation change.

“It comes back to, ‘What’s high school all about?'” Garvert said. “Right now, these poor kids need some normalcy. We’re not saying we need to be reckless. If this is one step to a little bit more normal, we think the kids deserve it. Right now, their lives — it’s so weird. They’re choosing to sacrifice the rest of their worlds to be able to play these sports. And we’re asking, ‘Is there a way to think outside the box just a little bit?'”

Garvert said parents pushed for the change because they observed other parents and fans attending games at other schools. Garvert, who also is a teacher within the district, said she first got the notion when she was at the Summit varsity girls basketball team’s season-opening home game versus West Grand on Jan. 29, serving the “essential” duty of keeping score for the game.

“I was doing the score book with the assistant principal from West Grand, and he said, ‘This is crazy. You know we are letting 50 people in from West Grand,'” Garvert said. “I asked, ‘How are you doing it safely?’ And as a principal, I respect his mission to keep schools open. He said they were doing the same thing we’ll do: assigned seats, symptom screeners, temperature at the door, wear masks all the time, no food, no drinks. So it started that night with a bunch of parents. We said, ‘Let’s start this. Let’s start writing letters.'”

Liz and Paul Duxbury were other parents who wrote letters to the district and county public health department. Like Garvert, the Duxburys said they were taken aback by attendance at road games after it previously had been communicated to them at a December meeting that all teams in the Tigers league would not permit parents.

Once the Duxburys saw that wasn’t the case in other counties — including Eagle and Routt — they drafted their letter. The letter communicated to the governing entities criticism of differing rules for Summit High sports as opposed to regulations for other situations and settings in the county with seemingly similar COVID-19 transmission risk. Liz Duxbury said she feels the letters and emails directly resulted in the regulation change. Duxbury’s criticism was echoed by Tigers varsity boys basketball coach Jordan Buller, who criticized the differing regulations for ski areas and restaurants versus school sports.

“It made them listen, at least, to what we had to say that there are safe ways to do it,” Duxbury said. “I know there are a lot of steps and bureaucracy and everything else. But all we wanted to know is: ‘Who’s making the decision, and what is the data for the decision?’ And we didn’t have that information. It felt arbitrary.”

Duxbury added that she and some other parents were frustrated in recent weeks with a lack of response and lack of transparency from the district and county public health department. Garvert said the first response she received was a blanket email statement Friday, Feb. 19, informing parents the letters were under consideration but a decision had not been made.

“We were like, ‘Where is this information and data coming from as to why we can’t follow the same rules as restaurants where you’re saying I can sit among total strangers and whatever,'” Duxbury said.

At Tuesday’s Board of Health meeting, county commissioners expressed confusion similar to parents regarding current regulations governing high school sports play and spectating. County Environmental Health Manager Dan Hendershott said the county has been working with the district and town of Breckenridge on how to manage spectators “in a way that meets the (COVID-19) guidelines and meets our desires to just, really, limit transmission.”

Hendershott said Wednesday that the county technically does not have to approve COVID-19 rules governing district sports, though the district is required to follow the county’s overall guidelines governing sports. Hendershott said the district chose to run its specific spectating plans by the county health department.

To this point in the season, it’s a statewide Colorado High School Activities Association variance that has enabled Summit High sports to resume at all. That’s because the county’s classification levels on the Colorado Department of Public Health dial would not have permitted high school practices or games due to capacity limits.

Hendershott said the sports situation is an example of the county attempting to balance reducing COVID-19 transmission and “the needs of the community.” In response to differing regulations for restaurants versus sports spectating, Hendershott pointed to how no more than two households are permitted to dine at a table while sports games present a situation where more households could “mingle and talk” and potentially spread the virus. Hendershott added that the county considers what activities “are more or less critical” when regulating.

“It’s critical to the economy to keep some of these businesses open, to keep the economy and behavioral health in good shape,” Hendershott said. “When you get to kids and youth sports, are sporting events necessary? Yes, they’re necessary for social and physical development. … Now that we’re looking to move to (COVID-19 level) yellow, maybe it is appropriate to start opening to spectators. Having spectators is probably on the lower scale of being a critical activity in our community, but it is still important.”

Summit County is expected to officially move to level yellow as soon as Thursday.

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