POLAND, Ohio (WKBN) – For weeks now, schools around the Valley have been focused on getting kids back into the classroom, safe from COVID-19. Before that starts, the high school football season is getting underway in stadiums with thousands of people in the stands — many of them leaving masks at home.
After weeks of hearing the pros and cons of mask-wearing in school, Poland’s Superintendent Craig Hockenberry saw something last night he never expected.
“When I looked out over the crowds on both sides, with over 7,200 people, there may have been some that I missed, but I didn’t see a whole lot of masking,” Hockenberry said.
Thursday night, more than 7,000 people attended the rivalry game between Canfield and Poland.
Hockenberry admits getting back to normal is something the community needs, but it will also be something to keep an eye on.
“Our number one concern is to protect our children’s safety, and we do have a big priority to get things back to normal. Last night gave us a glimpse of what it looked like several years ago, and we enjoy that. We miss that, but the question comes down: Are these events gonna be safe?” Hockenberry said.
After a three-year hiatus, Poland hosted Canfield Thursday in front of a standing-room only crowd. On Friday, Hockenberry said it’s added a whole new level of “what if” to the talk of how to handle COVID-19.
“We’re gonna continue to have discussions. Not just about what happens in the classroom but what happens at these major events as well. we’re gonna continue to have to watch the numbers,” Hockenberry said.
Unlike last year, there are no statewide mandates in place for school extracurriculars. For now, those decisions are being left up to local districts, but there have been concerns over growing case numbers of the virus in other parts of Ohio.
One of the Friday night’s big games will be with Springfield hosting South Range. There could be 4,000 people in the stands, and Springfield Superintendent Tom Yazvac says he’ll be watching data, just as he has throughout the pandemic.
“We see what the numbers do. We see how everything goes, and if we need to make adjustments down the road, we will, but I think right now we give it a shot and see how it goes,” Yazvac said.
The Board of Health is also looking at all the fall activities to make sure they stay safe.
Mahoning County’s Health Commissioner Ryan Tekac says people should consider wearing masks around large crowds, but more importantly, staying home when you’re sick, whether you have COVID or something else.
“A sense of just using that common sense, going back to the basics and respecting others and ensuring, like, if I’m sick, I’m not gonna go out,” Tekac said.
In the meantime, superintendents admit potential changes will be essentially game-time decisions.