The 2020 school year is underway, but due to COVID-19, there have been many precautions set in place. One precaution is having sports with limited to no fans in attendance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sports are in the high-risk category for the spread of COVID-19, especially indoor sports, so Westminster is being extra cautious in order to protect its students, faculty, staff, and families.
Having sporting events with less fan support has definitely affected the athletes. Many feel as if they have less motivation when competing in their sports.
“I have always run faster when people are cheering for me, so it definitely is different having to adapt to not having those extra fans cheering,” said senior Eleanor Carroll.
While all sports are affected by this restriction, it has been especially hard on the cheerleaders. The purpose of sideline cheerleading is to engage with fans and keep the fans’ spirits high during events and school sports, especially football. However, when they are cheering to an empty stadium, not only do they lack motivation, but it also makes their sport extra challenging.
“Cheerleading is all about hyping up a crowd, and it’s really weird when there is no one really to hype up,” said junior football cheerleader Peyton Townsend.
However, as this pandemic has taught many, it is key to make the best of what you have. The cheerleaders have done just that.
“Cheer right now is more about doing our personal best and having a fun time doing our own thing rather than hyping up the crowd,” said Townsend.
The main thing that fans at sporting events bring is a sense of community. Students and faculty both agree that the purpose of fans goes beyond cheering on their school’s sports team. Fans represent a community coming together under the Friday night lights, at pep rallies, or other sporting events.
“I think students on a Friday night really build community,” said head varsity football coach Gerry Romberg. “I’m going to miss having the students there.”
Westminster understands the importance of this sense of community, so they are trying their best to find safe ways for students to cheer on the Cats. Of course, their number one priority is the safety of everyone amid this global pandemic.
As the school year progresses, more fans will be allowed at Westminster sporting events, but it all depends on the size of the venue. One event with fans was Senior Night for varsity softball, as parents of senior athletes were allowed to attend but stayed socially distanced with masks. Other venues have the ability to host even more fans.
“In the gym we began with a maximum of 50 spectators, in comparison for 18 with softball,” said athletic director Tim Downes. “However, I think we will soon be able to double those numbers and get all parents in there.”
In the foreseeable future, the fans will be limited to immediate family. As the school year progresses, Westminster hopes to host all willing students at sporting events, with their number-one priority being the seniors.
During this time of limited fans, students are doing their best to try and maintain the comradery and sense of community that comes with these sporting events.
For example, @westminsterfans, the Instagram account in charge of encouraging game-day spirit, has started to get creative. Last year, each week students would vote on a “Fan of the Week,” which was the best-dressed or most spirited student at the football game. This year, they are trying to keep that tradition going, despite there being no football games to attend.
“Instead of dressing up for football games, we are going to try and have fans dress up in their costumes at school on Friday,” said senior Eleanor Carroll. “There will be a fan of the week, but instead of at the game it will be at school.”
Another way Westminster is trying to keep the spirit up with regard to sports is through WCAT, Westminster’s live broadcasting service. Westminster students, faculty, staff, and families are able to livestream most sporting events through WCAT.
“We have always joked that we could lose fans, pre-pandemic, because of WCAT since it is so easy to sit and watch athletic contests from the comfort of our own beds,” said Downes.
While many are disappointed to not be able to attend sporting events, these new options serve as temporary ways to keep the comradery and sense of community. Westminster has made the best out of a difficult situation, and there seems to be some good that could come out of it.
“One of the things that having limited fans could do is make it more desirable to be there,” said Downes.
People are realizing how much they miss being at sporting events and cheering with friends. With that in mind, it seems that when this pandemic ends, people will likely appreciate the opportunity to attend these events more, possibly attracting more fans and spirit.
In the meantime, students are learning to be flexible with this situation and look for the positives. As much as Westminster wants students to be able to attend sporting events, their number one concern is that everyone stays healthy and that players have the opportunity to play.
“All the accommodations we have to make are all worth it in the end since my whole goal is just to have these players be able to play in a game,” said Romberg.