Attending a fall high school sporting event will be a different experience than in years past for Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe fans due to the pandemic.
Many school districts are limiting the number of tickets sold to a household and the public – and Tempe Union High School District is among them.
At many district stadiums, other measures, such as the use of masks and social distancing, will also be in place as the high school football season in the Valley begins Friday.
Both Ahwatukee stadiums will largely be empty – at least for a while.
“We are not to in-person learning yet and do not feel it would be appropriate to allow fans and students into campus prior to students being in class at school,” said Dave Huffine, the Tempe Union High School District Athletic Director. “We are also keeping an eye on the ZIP code and district numbers. That has a big role as well.”
Currently, the district plans to open classrooms on Oct. 13 Monday-Tuesday for one group of students and Thursday-Friday for the other group.
Huffine said each athlete will be able to reserve two tickets for home football and volleyball games. At this point, however, no student or general public tickets will be sold.
Social distancing guidelines will be in place at Mountain Pointe, Desert Vista and the other Tempe Union high schools. That includes spectators wearing masks at all times.
Additionally, Huffine said concessions stands and merchandise tables will not be open for fans. The home band, however, will be in attendance.
Huffine added the district will continuously monitor the day-to-day changes as it relates to the virus. He hopes to allow more fans and students when Tempe Union returns to in-person learning.
The fan limits at games will undoubtedly cause a dramatic change in the overall energy that typically surrounds stadiums on Friday nights.
“I feel like the atmosphere will be completely different and make it harder to hype up my teammates and get them to play 100 percent for all four quarters,” Desert Vista junior running back Devon Grubbs said. “The excitement of the crowd also fuels players to do better.”
Grubbs, who has been at the varsity level since his freshman year, has become accustomed to the raucous energy Desert Vista’s student section and fans bring on a weekly basis.
He added it will take extra motivation from the sideline to remind players even if loud cheers aren’t heard, that doesn’t mean to not approach each play at full speed.
“I feel we’ll have to adjust by reminding my teammates that we aren’t playing for the crowd,” Grubbs said. “We’re playing for each other and to win.”
Jordan Huff, a junior wide receiver who transferred from Pinnacle to Mountain Pointe during the offseason, echoed Grubbs’ statement.
He believes the atmosphere will differ greatly from what he was accustomed to at Pinnacle and what he has been told about Mountain Pointe.
“The atmosphere on Friday nights with less fans will definitely be a little different and a little weird,” Mountain Pointe junior wide receiver Jordan Huff said, “but not so much that it will affect us as a team.
“We will really have to cheer for each other and bring that energy and fire since there aren’t as many fans.”
Even with fan attendance down compared to recent years, the annual Tukee Bowl rivalry between Desert Vista and Mountain Pointe continues to draw near standing-room only crowds.
The Tukee Bowl is currently scheduled to be played the last week of the eight-game regular season on Nov. 20. By then, students and general public ticket sales may be allowed. But there will still be some restrictions in place.
“I’ll definitely miss the crowds because both sides bring an incredible amount of excitement that fuels me to perform even better,” Grubbs said.
“I think that we will miss the packed crowds but hopefully in the near future they will give us a little more leeway with the fans,” Huff added.
With reduced crowd sizes and no concession stands allowed to operate, booster clubs have been forced to raise funds in other ways.
Jim Sawitzke, the president of the Mountain Pointe football booster club, was told early on to expect concessions to be closed.
In a typical season, $5,000 to $6,000 is typically made at concession stands and merchandise tables. This year, they’ve had to rely on other fundraising opportunities.
“It definitely hurts,” Sawitzke said. “But it’s kind of offset, as it is for most teams, because we didn’t take kids to camp this year, we didn’t have a travel game like we had originally planned, and we didn’t have any 7-on-7. So financially, it hurts but not spending money on those things helped a bit.
“Our corporate sponsors, the discount cards and other fundraisers we’ve done have helped.”
Other East Valley districts have similar plans to allow fans into stadiums.
Higley was the first district to announce its plans for fans to attend fall sporting events. The district decided not to put a limit on the number of fans that can attend. The only limitation is for an athlete’s household, which is set at four.
Mesa Public Schools will allow athlete’s families to purchase four tickets per game. Gilbert Public Schools will allow only 25 percent capacity in its stadiums and gyms, with each athlete allowed to purchase two. When capacity is reached, general admission tickets will no longer be sold.
Chandler Unified School District is also limiting capacity to 25 percent for football volleyball and swimming competitions. Four tickets will be available for football, cheer, pom and marching band participants, while only two will be available for volleyball.
While different, parents, coaches, players and school and district administrators all admit they’re happy to see sports this fall. Sawitzke, whose son, Kevin, is a senior tight end for Mountain Pointe, knows he won’t be able to high-five or fist bump other parents in the stand this season, but being able to watch his son play is worth the restrictions.
“It’s going to be a lot different and having a senior, I’m a little depressed about it,” Sawitzke said. “It’s a great feeling being in the stands with all of your friends and other parents when they score. Hearing the roar of the crowd is exhilarating. While there will still be cheering, it won’t quite be the same. But us parents realize playing football is a blessing, especially this year.”
Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista kickoff the 2020 season on Friday at 7 p.m. The Pride will host Higley while the Thunder visit Corona del Sol.