Atlanta high school sports keeps parents at bay — for now

John MaCauley (left) has to watch his daughter Gretchen “The Gretch” McCauley compete in her girl’s soccer game from the public sidewalk outside the fence on Chester Avenue at Maynard Jackson High School on Feb. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. Atlanta Public Schools isn’t currently allowing parents or any spectators to watch athletic events in-person because of COVID-19.  (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com_
John MaCauley (left) has to watch his daughter Gretchen “The Gretch” McCauley compete in her girl’s soccer game from the public sidewalk outside the fence on Chester Avenue at Maynard Jackson High School on Feb. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. Atlanta Public Schools isn’t currently allowing parents or any spectators to watch athletic events in-person because of COVID-19. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com_

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Under a darkening sky, parents and fans lined up along a sidewalk to watch a Maynard Jackson High School soccer game this week.

They peered through a chain link fence, stood in the bed of a pick-up truck and brought their own chairs. These were the best seats they could get.

Atlanta Public Schools won’t allow spectators inside its athletic venues until March 1. The rule is frustrating to some parents since surrounding districts, including Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett, permit attendance.

When APS sent an email to parents offering free and discounted tickets to attend Georgia State University basketball games it raised eyebrows even higher.

Robin Polster, whose daughter is a senior on Maynard Jackson’s soccer team, called it a “huge double standard” for APS to promote the university’s indoor games while barring parents from watching their own children play on their home turf.

“If every district surrounding us is making it work and can have spectators then APS is dropping the ball and has not tried to figure a way out, especially with it being an outdoor sport,” she said.

The district, in a written statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said that “as the spring sports season begins in earnest and activities move outdoors, the district will provide guidance to parents and other spectators on attending athletic events on APS campuses.”

Parents watch their daughters compete in the girls soccer game from the sidewalk outside the fence on Chester Avenue at Maynard Jackson High School on Feb. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. Atlanta Public Schools isn’t allowing parents or any spectators to watch athletic events in-person because of COVID-19. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Parents watch their daughters compete in the girls soccer game from the sidewalk outside the fence on Chester Avenue at Maynard Jackson High School on Feb. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. Atlanta Public Schools isn’t allowing parents or any spectators to watch athletic events in-person because of COVID-19. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Atlanta middle and high school students who opted to return to school buildings for in-person learning did so this week. Younger children were allowed to come a few weeks before.

But sports — which the district allowed to continue even when classes were only online — are still off-limits for fans.

Polster watched one home game this week from inside the venue because she volunteered to run the scoreboard. But other parents were kept out.

She said only about two dozen people go to the soccer games in a normal season, and it’s possible to spread out.

Gwinnett County Public Schools’ guidelines limit attendance for outdoor spring sports to 30% of the stadium’s capacity, a spokesman said. DeKalb high schools are permitting 300 total spectators for spring sports, with tickets sold online. Each athlete on a Clayton high school team can bring four family members to the games.

And in Fulton County, the football stadiums where the lacrosse, track and soccer teams compete are limited to 30% capacity, according to a spring sports handbook. Two hundred spectators are allowed inside the baseball stadiums, and fans are asked to bring lawn chairs and spread out along the fence lines.

Parents and fans gather to watch the girl’s soccer game from the public sidewalk outside the fence on Chester Avenue at Maynard Jackson High School on Feb. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. Atlanta Public Schools isn’t allowing parents or any spectators to watch athletic events in-person because of COVID-19. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Parents and fans gather to watch the girl’s soccer game from the public sidewalk outside the fence on Chester Avenue at Maynard Jackson High School on Feb. 18, 2021, in Atlanta. Atlanta Public Schools isn’t allowing parents or any spectators to watch athletic events in-person because of COVID-19. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Polster’s concern about Atlanta’s spectator ban grew when, earlier this month, she received an email through the APS Campus Messenger service promoting tickets to go see this weekend’s Georgia State basketball games.

”With all of the chaos of the 2020-2021 academic year, Georgia State would like to invite teachers, students and families of Atlanta Public Schools out to a weekend of Panther Basketball,” the email sent by APS read.

It included a link to purchase tickets.

In a written statement, APS said: “We simply shared that information via our all-user list as a courtesy to Georgia State.”

Mike Holmes, a spokesman for the university’s athletic department, said the partnership with APS predates the pandemic. Georgia State’s athletic teams regularly reach out to groups and organizations in an effort to get prospective students and their parents to learn about the university and visit campus.

Georgia State’s basketball arena seats just under 4,000 fans. Attendance is capped at 20% to maintain social distancing, he said.

The university asks groups that it partners with, such as APS, to promote the events. The APS offer netted about 40 to 50 ticket sales, Holmes said.

“We just feel that we’ve put all the safety precautions in place,” he said. “We can host an event in the safest manner possible.”

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