College football players might be risking a lot playing through the COVID-19 pandemic, but for the most part in North Carolina, they will not have the luxury of friends or family at games.
Pat Crowley, a former All-ACC offensive lineman at North Carolina, would love to be at Kenan Stadium on Saturday watching his son, Will, a walk-on tight end. But because of Gov. Roy Cooper’s guidelines, only 50 people are allowed at an outdoor arena. North Carolina will host Syracuse in 50,500-seat Kenan Stadium.
“That’s a little ridiculous,” said Crowley, the head football coach at Reynolds High School. “How can indoor gyms be at 30 percent occupancy and restaurants be at 50 percent, and an outdoor arena like Kenan Stadium can only have 50 people in the stands? It just doesn’t make sense, especially for the parents who want to go to the game and be there in person.”
Steve Kirschner, a senior associate athletics director for communications at North Carolina, said no decision has been made about how many parents or family members of players will be allowed into the game.
Crowley has contacted Cooper’s office in Raleigh, and he received an e-mail from Kevin Monroe.
“The (Executive Order) does note an exception for sporting events to occur but does not allow for a spectator number above the mass gathering outdoor limit of 50,” Monroe’s email to Crowley read.
Keith Henry, the father of Clemson sophomore defensive end K.J. Henry, will not be at Saturday’s game at Wake Forest. Henry said he was told by Clemson there would be no tickets available for families.
Henry, an assistant coach at Western Carolina, said he wasn’t surprised at the move but wishes he and his wife, Nikki, could see their son play near his hometown. K.J. grew up in Clemmons and starred for West Forsyth.
“The families of the Wake kids and the Clemson kids could definitely social distance enough at the game, but it’s not my call,” Henry said.
K.J. Henry and all of his teammates will get four tickets for family members at Clemson home games. Clemson will be allowed to host about 19,000 fans in 81,500-seat Memorial Stadium.
“The rules are a little different in South Carolina for outdoor sporting events so we’ll get to see him play (Sept. 19) against Citadel,” Keith Henry said.
The Henry family, in the previous two seasons, has attended at least three or four regular-season games plus postseason games.
“We wish we could go, but we’ll be home watching on TV,” Keith Henry said. “I just think it helps to have your mom or dad in the stands because it makes a difference. I know I felt that way when I played.”
Wake Forest, for its 7:30 p.m. game Saturday against No. 1 Clemson, will be permitted to allow 50 people at Truist Field, which seats 31,500. Those 50 will be parents of Wake Forest senior football players.
“We have 14 redshirt seniors and they will be asked first if their parents are going to the game,” said Will Pantages, associate athletics director of athletics communications. “The way (Coach) Dave (Clawson) approached it was to make the sure the guys who have been in the program the longest get a chance to have their parents at the game. And if some parents of those seniors aren’t going, then we will go down the line to the junior class next and so on down the line.”
Blake Whiteheart, a redshirt sophomore tight end at Wake Forest who is a Mount Tabor graduate, should be seeing more playing this season. But his mother, Tina, will be on the outside Saturday night.
“I feel worse for the incoming freshmen whose parents won’t get to see that first time going out onto the field in a Wake Forest uniform,” Tina said. “That’s a memory you keep forever, so I feel worse for those parents.”
Tina said she appreciates Cooper doing all the right things to keep our state safe, but wonders whether something could be done with the football stadiums.
“It just doesn’t make any sense when it’s an outdoor stadium and there’s such a strict limit,” Whiteheart said. “I think it’s too late to do anything for this week’s game, but maybe something can be done for the other home games we’ve got coming up. The team has worked so hard to get ready and are making sacrifices on campus and in practice to be safe, so for them not to have any family at the game just doesn’t make sense.”
Crowley said he’s not sure whether his son will see the field for Saturday’s game in Chapel Hill, but that’s not really the point.
“Having parents in the stands is something that is good for everybody involved,” Crowley said. “I know the pandemic is affecting a lot of things, but I think being able to have parents at such a large stadium like Kenan you can easily spread out and be safe.”
North Carolina coach Mack Brown said he wishes parents of players could be in the stands.
“I would ask that the decision makers that have made the decision to not let the parents of the players into the game this weekend – we're talking about hundreds in a 50,000-seat stadium where they would be wearing masks and social distancing and making sure they were totally safe in our community – would reconsider and let the parents come.
“And that’s talking about all the universities in our state, because parents need to see their kids play.”
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