The return of ‘Friday Night Lights’— and COVID? Tension surfaces over masks at games

The student section for Bellarmine’s second home game against Curtis on Sep. 16 is pictured here in their “Red, White, and Cowboy” attire.
Photo courtesy of the bellarmine_prep Instagram

On Saturday, Sept. 4, Bellarmine Prep took on Olympia for the grand return of football games to Memorial Field. Bellarmine beat Olympia 30-27, and the wave of camouflage marking the student section went wild at the eventual fourth quarter touch-down, scoring the last points to steal the win.

The last time students were allowed to attend a football game was during the team’s last regular season before the COVID-19 pandemic, in November of 2019. Naturally, students could hardly hold on their excitement as they gathered in and in front of the bleachers overlooking Memorial Field.  This game was before masks were to be required in an outside gathering of 500 people or more, therefore the majority of the tightly-packed student section was not wearing masks. Throughout the night things such as moshing after a touchdown, indulging in the concession snacks in close proximity, waving water bottles cap-less into the air, and even crowd surfing was put on display from the students.

Bellarmine was meant to play South Kitsap the following Friday Sept. 10, but South Kitsap had to cancel due to a COVID outbreak at the school. A mask-mandate at Bellarmine football games was at this point implemented, so when Bellarmine’s next home game on Sept. 16 came around, everyone was eager to see what the student section would choose: to collectively not sacrifice social unity and shed the masks, or take the safe route to protect themselves and their peers?

The answer was neither; the student section was a split decision. Some wore masks the whole time; some wore their masks only part time—and, as expected, some students did not wear masks at all. Administration was encouraging students throughout the game to wear their masks, and although some complied, others temporarily gave-in only to discard the mask a moment later. How are students feeling about the actions of the administration, and their peers’ responses?

At the first game, masks were not required. At the second, a mandate was attempted to be implemented by the administration. Did students notice a difference?

Senior Jo Archbold attended both home games, and said this: “I noticed the people right in front of the fence wearing masks, but the people directly behind them were not because administrators couldn’t see them. Most people were wearing them but a lot of people were not wearing them properly— they were below the face.”

Are seniors concerned about a potential outbreak jeopardizing their senior year, after losing their junior year? Archbold weighs in. “Yeah, there’s definitely a possibility of an outbreak, especially for winter sports. During the football season and soccer season it can be managed, but once we’re inside for the entire time it will become a problem.”

“This is a private school, and the administrators’ job is to make rules for us, and our job is to follow those rules to the best of our abilities. Again, we are a private school, so technically we don’t also have to follow what the public schools are doing. If the government says ‘oh, this is okay’ we’re still at a private school; we have to follow our admin’s rules.”

The question then becomes: what is the solution for people continually not following state law and school rules? Another student chimed in to say: “It is state law at this point that at outside gatherings of 500 people or more, they are required to wear masks. I think the administration should enforce and if people are not following they get removed from the game. If they are not going to follow state or school rules, they should not be allowed to participate in school events.” Clearly some students feel very strongly about the mask-mandate, but others are not so inclined. A student mentioned that they feel at the point where students will continue to disregard these precautions, they are just treated as “lost causes.”

The future of sports and student life for this year is uncertain. Stability and security is what the senior class and all the student body lacks—as we’ve seen, anything can happen, and nothing’s for certain. The best the students can do is make the decision they know is the best for themselves and their future— and that decision, clearly, will vary depending on the individual.