CANTON — For the Smiths and Lys, their trip to Cherokee High School’s football game against Carver in the Corky Kell Classic was both familiar and strange.
They had to wear facemasks and be seated by an attendant, who would make sure people were spread out in the bleachers. Tickets, parking and concessions were all touchless electronic transactions. Foods at the concession stand were all pre-packaged.
“The hot hasn’t changed,” Gena Smith joked, as she and her family baked under an unrelenting sun and 93-degree heat.
It was Georgia’s first high school football game of the season, and the first during the global novel coronavirus pandemic announced in late winter, which forced the cancellation of all spring prep sports across Georgia.
Before the game, the Cherokee High band played, it’s members separated by at least six feet. The Warriors cheerleading squad walked to get into place, passing mask wearing officials, coaches and ball boys talking on the field.
For the Wednesday Corky Kell Classic game, the organizers’ coronavirus safety precautions were in place. But, when the season begins for other Cherokee high schools on Friday, the school system’s similar safety measures will be in effect.
“We have implemented safety protocols for CCSD athletic events,” Cherokee County School District Athletic Director Tonya Sebring said Wednesday. “Some of the measures include the limiting of event tickets sales to 25% of the venue seating capacity to allow adequate space to social distance, and we encourage all spectators to wear masks while social distancing and will continue to announce reminders throughout the contests.”
Corky Kell Classic organizers made the announcement last week that face masks would be required to enter and during the game, after consulting with state public health officials.
“We want to do everything we can to make the safest possible environment,” Corky Kell Classic executive director Dave Hunter told Score Atlanta. “We are extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of our players and fans, and we got advice from the medical community that recommended fans, players not participating in the game, cheerleaders and people wear a mask.”
On Wednesday at Tommy Baker Field, Cherokee High North Campus nurse Melissa Hilliard and school operations employee Sonia Murillo stood at the entrance to the bleachers to help fans find seats and stay safely distanced. After kickoff, they were to keep an eye on the stands to make sure people stayed distanced.
While their experiences as fans during a pandemic were not what they were used to, the Smiths and Lys said they were glad to enjoy football again.
“It’s different, but it’s worth it,” Raymond Smith said.