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No flexibility with face coverings at football games

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South Pike County Schools Superintendent Brad Sullivan said those who don’t wear masks at football game could put season in jeopardy.

By P.J. Tracy

Murfreesboro Diamond

In an effort to help keep the football season alive, South Pike County Schools Superintendent Brad Sullivan asks all attendees to this Friday night’s game against Centerpoint to observe the protocols, including their mask.

The mandated plan authored by the Arkansas Department of Health and approved by the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA), which the school had to agree to enforce in order to hold football games, states the following:

“Face coverings are required for all persons present, except children under the age of 10 years old … due to increased production of respiratory droplets during yelling or cheering, face coverings should remain in place even when attendees are seated and maintaining required physical distancing. Face coverings may be removed to consume food or beverage but should be in place immediately afterwards.”

Other mandates include social distancing of family groups in the stands — every other row in the bleachers is marked for no use — as well as social distancing around the rails and at the concession stand, which will also be marked.

Public address announcements will be made during the game, asking that masks be worn at all times.

SPCS Athletic Director Marc McRae said that entry into the stadium will be the same, noting there would be no pre-sale of tickets.

“Whether standing or sitting, please maintain your social distance … when you can, please do so. Please help out to allow us to keep playing.”

When exiting the stadium, the home crowd will be asked to exit the bleachers in an opposite fashion to entry, walking behind the home bleachers to exit the stadium.

“The reality is that our stadium isn’t really set up for in one way, and out the other,” said Sullivan. “When we come out we will have to bunch up some, so that why we want to wear our masks.”

A memo issued to schools last week by the AAA warned that after a lack of following the protocols was observed at member schools in the scrimmage week and continued lack of observation would lead to to the cessation of the 2020 football season.

“That got our attention,” said Sullivan.

“For the good of our students, what I’d like to stress is that we want our students — athletes, band students and cheerleaders — to have the opportunity to finish the season. The mandates do not give us any flexibility in face coverings. I want to go on record that we will set that expectation.”

Sullivan said he had no interest in debating the “science of it” or getting into “political debate” while admitting he had come full circle on the topic himself.

“At the end of the day, if we don’t follow the expectations, we could be shut down. This is not a political issue, we are just trying to give our students an opportunity.” 

Sullivan added the “kids have done what they were asked to do” in the first week of school, which had been “a great week.”

“They kids have worn their masks and we have social distanced when we could … I would like to acknowledge them along with our staff, who have set the expectations and our students followed.

“We’ve got good kids and staff that want to be safe and do everything we can to protect our children while providing an education for them. Part of that education is the extracurricular activities — band, cheerleading, football — is beyond the core subjects and other classes, it is the opportunity to be a part of a team.”

This past week at Magnet Cove, Sullivan said he noticed “for the most part our people and theirs wore their masks, and I commend them for that … we will do the same here this week.”

“We hate to be this way, we wish it weren’t the case … but if someone refuses to wear their mask, we will have to ask them to leave.”