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Back in the game — Fans celebrate the return of high school football

The Jersey Shore High School football teams stands for the National Anthem ,in a nearly empty stadium, before the game against Shamokin, Friday night in Jersey Shore.

Throughout the summer, no one knew what the fall would hold. As the weeks grew closer to the PIAA’s ultimate decision in late July regarding whether or not fall sports would proceed, players, coaches and fans in the area all were wondering if they’d get to see a football game played Week 1 or if instead football fields would sit empty and lights turned off.

After weeks of waiting and the season getting delayed two weeks by the PIAA, football’s finally back.

Throughout the area Friday, football teams were playing their season openers. In Lycoming County, Montoursville, Hughesville and Jersey Shore all hosted a Week 1 game.

Stadiums may not have been packed shoulder to shoulder with screaming fans, but some fans is better than none.

“It means a lot for the few that will get in. These boys actually worked their hearts out and without fans, it’s just not the same,” Hughesville Booster Club president Larry Yocum said. “They’ve all remarked on if they at elates have their parents there but still not the same without 600, 700, 800 fans in the stadium.”

Gov. Tom Wolf allowed a maximum of 250 fans for outdoor events, which limits how many fans – including parents – could be in attendance yesterday for the season openers given how big some rosters are, which are factored into the 250 count.

But fans were nonetheless grateful Friday night for being able to be in the stands.

“We’re glad he’s out there, but we wish all the parents could be here to see their kids play,” Tessa Carter, son of Warrior Run lineman Austin Witmer, said regarding only parents of seniors given tickets. “Austin is happy to be playing but he said it’s not the same (without fans). I don’t think the kids are angry, I think they’re sad (about fans). I believe every kid on the team is equally important. That’s what the team is all about.”

“It certainly is nice to know that we can have spectators and parents at some of the events this fall season for the kids. I know it’s important to the kids and their parents to have their family watching them at events,” Williamsport athletic director Sean McCann said. “These student-athletes have worked hard over the years, especially for the seniors. It’s important for their family to be there to watch and support the athletes while they are participating in their games/events.”

The players knew entering today that it would be a unique atmosphere. The screaming hundreds of fans is now reduced to a capacity of 250. There won’t be massive student sections and the stands won’t be packed for the huge rivalry games throughout the year.

“I’m glad they get to play. Hunter has been chomping at the bit,” Ed Rovelnolt said of his son, Warrior Run quarterback Hunter Rovenolt. “He will miss his uncles being here and the usual atmosphere but he’s happy he gets to play. I’m just ready for everything to get back to normal.”

Yocum feels that it’s made teams bond though and be closer.

“They’re all well aware and I honestly think it brought the team closer together because now they have each other to rely on and keep their spirits high,” Yocum said. “Whether you miss a block or anything, they seem to be in tune with each other. I hate to say it, but it might be a good thing.”

One thing that will be impacted this year will be revenue from concession stands and sales at the gate due to the limited amount of fans allowed in.

“It’s going to make it really tough on all the booster clubs, not just ours. We were lucky enough to get our one fundraiser in,” Yocum said. “That did help us for this year, but it’s really going to hurt next year without having all the concession sales. … That’s going to hurt in the next year or two to recoup what we haven’t been able to make this year.”

Williamsport won’t have a home football game until Week 3 and those two weeks on the road allow the school some time to see what other schools do with their facilities and accommodating of tickets and spectators.

“We plan to watch area schools closely and see what can work for our specific school and stadium. Our school seats 6,500 people, so any time of allotment, such as mentioned in HB2787 would work for our facility,” McCann said. “We are hoping that HB2787 passes so we can accommodate for our football team, marching band and our cheerleaders. I’m happy and excited for the students that we will be able to have these games/events for them this fall.”

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