An athletic director paused a Thursday night high school football game in Utah when he saw fans in the stands ignoring coronavirus protocols.
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Jeremy Lewis, the athletic director at American Fork High School in American Fork, Utah, temporarily halted play during the first half of his school’s game against Timpview High School when he saw that many fans had removed their masks and moved closer together, rather than remaining in their seats.
Lewis addressed the crowd, telling them to put their masks back on and return to their assigned seats. When the fans realized the game would not resume until they did so, they began to comply. Lewis estimates the delay was less than a minute.
“This day and age for sports to continue, we just all have to make sacrifices,” Lewis told USA TODAY Sports. “… These are just the requirements right now to play football here, and these are the requirements to watch football. And so we are going to do, on the school level, whatever we can to allow our athletes to continue to play the game they love.”.
While many states have delayed the start of high school football or pushed the season to the spring, Utah started its season on time, becoming the first state to begin its high school season amid the pandemic.
UHSAA guidelines require all players on both teams to undergo temperature checks before every game. Masks and social distancing among spectators are recommended.
However, the Alpine School District — the district in which American Fork High is located — has stricter protocols. Those include 25% capacity at all sporting events with all tickets being sold in advance, and a mask requirement. Additionally, all fans are required to sign an agreement form before attending sporting events.
That form, a copy of which a district spokesperson provided to USA TODAY Sports, includes language that states: “Spectators are required to wear face coverings to attend all ASD events. Games may be delayed or suspended for non compliance.”.
“Alpine School District is doing everything possible to provide a safe environment for school and sporting events,” a spokesperson said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports. “It is our hope that these events can continue into the future as we rely on everyone working together to comply with the established protocols.”.
As play stopped Thursday, Lewis said many American Fork players addressed the crowd — which was mostly parents and families — as well, telling them to move so that play could resume.
“The American Fork High School team turned to the stands and started yelling at the fans, ‘Move, move, move to your correct place, get out! Go to the other side where your spot is!’ Lewis said. “Which was great. They understand that every game is a gift at this point.”.
Head coach Aaron Behm was supportive of the stoppage, according to Lewis. American Fork went on to win the game, 31-21.
Lewis emphasized that in halting play, he was just doing his job in following the protocols assigned to him by the district, and he hopes that the incident will lead to higher compliance in the future.
“This is not something that I wanted to do in any way, shape or form,” Lewis said. “But I hope people can understand that the consequences of not wearing a mask and that it will be enforced, of not social distancing, that will be enforced, and that if they don’t want the flow of the game to be upset at all, then to just wear your face covering and sit where you’ve purchased a ticket.”.