Online Originals: ‘We all really love to have Friday night lights again.’ Legislators file bill to ease seating limits

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — The pandemic-delayed high school football season in North Carolina is less than a week away. Some Republican North Carolina lawmakers want to allow bigger crowds to see those games and other outdoor high school sports events.

Current state COVID-19 restrictions imposed by Gov. Roy Cooper limit spectators to 3% of the capacity of an outdoor venue. D.H. Conley High School Athletic Director Rob Maloney said he hears frustrations about that current seating limit, 100 for his school.  

“That’s the unfortunate part. The positives, at this point, the parents and our fans have done a wonderful job adapting to the current situation.”

Maloney says fans are a big factor in high school sports. 

“Every high school has their student section,” Maloney said. “At Conley, they’re the Conley Crazies, and they bring so much to the home environment. And I also coach basketball and that’s probably been the biggest difference, is playing a game in a near-empty gym is just, it’s a different vibe.”

A bill from Rep. Danny Britt and other GOP state senators would open up capacity limits at outdoor high school games to 40% of a venue’s capacity. 

“If you see him at night, he’s got his cell phone out and he’s watching his kids’ ball games,” Britt said about Senator Todd Johnson, another lawmaker behind the bill. 

“Folks like Todd, his time so limited as it is, and for a lot of people, that’s a big deal to be able to see your kid play.” 

Britt is also an attorney with a background in family law.  He said sports capacity limits are factoring into family problems.   

“It is causing some issues with domestic cases where there is a current visitation order in place, and it may be one parent’s weekend to visit, but both parents want to go to the game,” Britt said.

Britt criticizes Cooper’s handling of schools during the pandemic, saying it’s beyond time to return kids to classrooms.   

“The children that are suffering the most are not children who have parents at home that can work with them, are not the children that have decent wifi, they’re the children that were already behind,” Britt said.

School officials are glad the bill comes in time for the delayed football season and that games can be played safely. 

“You know, with larger numbers, the risk goes up a little bit,” Britt said. “Personally, I’m very confident that we’ll be in a safe environment, especially being outdoors and being able to spread out.”  

Maloney said easing restrictions can help bring some normalcy, especially in sports.  

“I think we all really love to have Friday night lights again,” Maloney said.

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