JACKSON – The bleachers may not be completely filled, but parents and athletes are getting excited about the fact that more spectators will be able to occupy them.
Governor Phil Murphy announced recently that a limited number of people could watch indoor and outdoor school athletic competitions in person.
On February 12, the governor issued an executive order that went into effect immediately allowing school districts to allow up to two parents/guardians per participating athlete under the age of 21 to watch a game or practice.
Attendance can’t exceed 35% of the facility’s capacity or 150 people, including parents, coaches, players, referees and others.
Jackson MHS and LHS Athletic Director Rob Paneque told The Jackson Times that the district was happy to allow parents to watch their children play. They will still follow guidelines for safety.
“Obviously, each facility presents different challenges in capacity and still trying to maintain social distancing but we will do whatever we can to have people enjoy watching their kids play ball,” Paneque said.
“A lot of schools have had their share of issues to deal with COVID-related and we have had to navigate that in scheduling games and making sure people are safe and following all the guidelines. These kids have been out practicing and playing hard,” he added.
The school district has expanded live streaming at their two high schools allowing for greater viewership of games past and present at Jackson Memorial High School and Jackson Liberty High School.
Paneque said, “we’ve been able to livestream for all people involved so people can watch games from a great distance away. Grandparents and those not in the area can watch them, so adding that to our schools has been great.”
“I’m sure that parents or guardians being there to watch has added more. We will be continuing to livestream events. Our ability to do that has been put in place and that is something we can do from this point forward,” the athletic director added.
“It is a good thing for sure. With all the other adjustments we’ve made, the first thing was to provide an opportunity for kids to play, first and foremost. That was a positive thing and now that parents can come that is another step in the right direction and we hope it continues,” Paneque said.
Jackson Township is a big sports community and many parents were pleased with the lifting of coronavirus restrictions that would now allow for watching the live games.
Ken Hickman was very happy to learn that he could now watch his 17-year-old son, Jake, a senior at Jackson Liberty High School play basketball.
Hickman remarked, “he plays forward or guard. He’s been involved in sports since he was a little boy. With baseball he started off with T-ball playing in the back yard with his brother and organized baseball from T-ball until now and basketball in a recreation league and also in a travel basketball league.”
“It was sad not to be able to be there to watch him play even though we were able to watch on live stream. It still wasn’t the same,” Hickman said.
When asked how his son with coping with the pandemic which often calls for any live instruction to revert to full remote when situations of increased COVID-19 cases emerge, Hickman said it has had its toll.
“What I saw is when they were finally able to go back and go through tryouts and the season, I did see a change in his demeanor. With the ups and downs he was kind of in a bit of a sad state.” Hickman said.
He added, “once tryouts started, the first day he came home I saw a difference. He was almost like a different kid. He was happy and excited. He was able to be around his friends and teammates so it was a positive good change going back to playing basketball.”
“He also plays on a baseball team and they lost their season last year. That was a big chunk of their interaction, their socialization, and being able to get back for basketball was a big positive change for him,” Hickman said.
“The coaches are doing a lot to keep the normalcy for the kids and one thing they did was that they have these banners for the seniors. They are all posed in a picture. I spoke to a lot of parents who have said the same thing that they are happy to be back watching (their children) in the basketball courts and tryouts. It is a positive change,” Hickman said.
Hickman didn’t mind any of the restrictions that had to be put in place for parents including the limitation to two members of each family. “What they have us do is fill out a form to reserve a seat and to let them know who is going and once we get there, we have our temperature checked.”
“On the bleachers there are markings for where you need to sit. Everyone is spaced out. The gym at Liberty is large. There is plenty of space for people to make it safe. There is a process to go through but it is not a difficult thing to do,” Hickman said.
-Chris Lundy contributed to this story.