The Little Indians will welcome more spectators for football games at Andy Kuzneski field beginning next week but Indiana Area School District officials said social distancing would govern the number of fans in the bleachers, not the 250-person limit set by Gov. Tom Wolf and struck down recently by a federal judge.
In an announcement Wednesday on the district website, school officials said families of the game participants will get the first chance to buy tickets — two per family — beginning today. Next week tickets also will be offered to the student body.
With the legal rulings leaving the decisions on activity attendance in the hands of local school district, Indiana officials said that community members, now permitted to cheer the Indians in person, will be asked to comply with the Athletics and Extracurricular Health and Safety Plan that the student athletes, band musicians, cheerleaders and other game personnel have been required to follow since late August.
The judge ruled that caps on attendance of events — set at 250 for outdoor games and 25 for indoor games — violated the First Amendment right to assemble.
But the judge upheld mandates on use of facemasks and social distancing for curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body for school sports, told member schools that Wolf’s caps aren’t mandatory, “at least for the moment,” and that each school can make its own decision on crowds at games.
If schools invite more spectators, “they should exercise caution and good judgment in setting numbers for attendance at indoor and outdoor sports,” wrote the PIAA’s executive director, Robert Lombardi.
House Republicans lost an override vote Wednesday on Wolf’s veto of a bill that would have given school boards the ability to make decisions on sports and extracurricular activities, including whether to allow spectators, and how many. It had passed the House earlier this month with 150 “yes” votes, but the override tally, 130-71, fell slightly short of the required supermajority.
During floor debate, Minority Leader Frank Dermody warned that it’s “folly” to act like the coronavirus is going away.
“This is about politics,” said Dermody, D-Allegheny. “This is not about the safety of our children. It’s not about the welfare of student-athletes.”
The sponsor, Rep. Mike Reese, R-Westmoreland, called the proposal a return to common sense.
The rules of the safety plan still will be enforced at Indiana’s home games.
“Please keep in mind that our primary goal is to keep our schools open, and the community’s efforts to stop the spread of the virus are critical in maintaining that goal,” according to an unsigned statement on the district’s website.
Families will be contacted today about their options to have game tickets for the game scheduled this Friday.
Students will be allowed to buy tickets to future games during school hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. No tickets will be sold at the gate.
“We want our students to have the best experience possible while attending our schools, and will do all that we can to ensure that students have the opportunity to attend these home events and cheer on their friends,” district officials said.
Local fans will have priority.
“We value our loyal fan base! Alum, boosters, local sports-lovers, and anyone else who bleeds red and black will have access to any remaining tickets or space at home events after our student and family sales,” the district said in a letter.
Tickets won’t be offered to visiting teams, and school officials asked Indiana football fans to honor similar policies that are expected to be enacted at schools where Indiana plays on the road this season.
Fans not attending Little Indians’ games at Fifth Street Stadium can watch the action streaming online at https://www.facebook.com/indiana.area.1/.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.