High school athletes will hear less cheering from the stands this fall, not because fans are any less enthusiastic but because there will be fewer fans to cheer.
Safety precautions to ward off COVID-19 exposure have forced school officials to limit the number of fans attending football, soccer and volleyball games this fall.
Many are setting the limit at 50% of normal capacity and some, including Carter County, have chosen a 20% limit.
All the limits and safety precautions follow recommendations from local health departments, the Kentucky Department of Education, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association and Gov. Andy Beshear.
Spectators can expect staffers to take their temperatures when they enter the stadium or gym, and should bring masks, which will be required.
Virus issues also may affect who plays whom — and in some cases, who plays at all.
Russell was to have played Lawrence County in its season opener Sept. 11, but had to find a new opponent when a Lawrence coach tested positive for the virus, Russell Superintendent Sean Horne said. The plan B opponent, Shelby County, pulled out with no explanation and now Russell is scheduled to play Rowan County, Horne said.
"I think there will be a lot of that. We're going to have to get used to planning things on the fly," he said.
Ashland and Greenup, matched up for their opener, won't play because an Ashland player tested positive, according to a Facebook post by Ashland Superintendent Sean Howard.
But when Greenup does play, it has a detailed set of precautions outlined on its Facebook page. They include temperature checks for everyone entering the venue with a maximum of 100.4 degrees for admission, masks at all times and social distancing in the stands, pre-sales of all football tickets with none sold at the gate, and a prohibition on tailgating.
Greenup will sell soccer and volleyball tickets at the events.
The rules will be similar at most other area schools.
Some, like West Carter, will collect names of everyone coming in; the information will be used for contact tracing in the event anyone at the event tests positive for the virus, athletic director Corey Gee said.
West Carter is among the pre-sale-only schools for football, the reason being to insure parents of players get first crack at getting in to see their kids play, Gee said.
Russell is reserving blocks of tickets for visiting fans, Horne said. Based on a formula borrowed from the fire marshal, Russell can accommodate between 1,500 to 1,700 fans at its stadium; about 200 tickets will be reserved for the visiting team and sent to that school for presale, he said.
Presale of tickets serves another purpose — avoidance of currency exchange, which can transmit the virus.
It also avoids glut of fans at the gates, where lines already will be slowed because of temperature checks.
Enforcement of the safety precautions will require an "all-hands-on-deck" approach, said Greenup Superintendent Traysea Moresea, who has assigned additional staffers to attend the games.
Like most other school officials, she is hoping for voluntary compliance. Non-cooperative fans could be asked to leave, but she hopes it will not come to that.
Widespread non-compliance could lead to consequences including state authorities reconsidering whether fan presence and competition should continue.
"I've been stressing that all eyes will be on us to see that we can pull this off. I ask that our fans understand we need everyone to adhere to the guidelines so our kids can continue to play and our schools can return to in-person session," she said.
Boyd Superintendent Bill Boblett said he is depending on a "trust but verify" approach. "We're relying on the good sense of people to follow the rules," he said.
School officials also warn that procedure are subject to change as they assess the success of the system, as more information about the pandemic becomes available, and as the state issues more guidelines.