More spectators will be allowed into high school athletic events beginning this week following a new order by Governor Brad Little that seeks to permit athletics to “continue in a way that is productive and safe for all participants, while including spectators.”

The order, dated Dec. 30, sets new guidelines for spectators while seeking to be consistent with the requirements of the Idaho Stage 2 Stay Healthy Order.

Stage 2 of the state’s COVID-19 plan limited the number of spectators to 10, with some additions for essential personnel. The new order states that each athlete can have two spectators at both home and away games. The limit is 13 players each for freshman, junior varsity and varsity basketball teams. Cheerleaders are now allowed at games, but limited to six per squad. They are also allowed two spectators.

Wrestling is limited to 15 athletes, with two spectators per athlete allowed for duals, tri-meets and quads, but no spectators are allowed at tournaments.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Skyline athletic director Gregg Baczuk said. “It’s a win for the parents, it’s a win for the kids, the coaches … It’s a win for the administrators too. We want those gyms full. It doesn’t make our jobs easier to have empty gyms. It’s been horrible.”

The first half of the basketball season has seemed almost surreal with just a handful of fans in the stands, noted Bonneville athletic director Tyler Johnson.

“It was like a ghost town,” he said, adding there was frustration at many levels. “(This) is a step forward.”

The state is still in Stage 2 so there are restrictions. There will be no student sections, and bands and dance teams are still prohibited.

Basketball players have already adjusted to the “new normal” of not having the raucous atmosphere typically generated by festive rivalry games or having parents not being able to attend games.

“We saw in early games the energy was just not there,” Hillcrest boys basketball coach Dave Austin said earlier this season. “They feed off of that crowd and without that crowd it made it tough.”

Austin said players had been adapting all season. Instead of feeding off the crowd, the bench players provided the noise and energy, but it was still hard on players without family in the stands.

“They’ve always had parents (at the games) and had that support,” he said. “To not have that support is a huge adjustment.”

The roar of the crowd can be powerful.

“Usually before a game our adrenaline was really hyped up and your first shot would go long,” Thunder Ridge senior Lloyer Driggs said. “This year we have to make our own energy.”

Thunder Ridge boys basketball coach Lee Toldson said creating energy was a challenge without fans.

“Sometimes it takes awhile to get going,” he said.

Other rules from the new order include:

n All non-participating athletes, essential personnel, administrators, and table help are required to properly wear masks. Freshmen and JV teams may remain in the gym behind the team playing.

n Masks and facial coverings are required for all spectators when not seated and physically distanced.

n Physical distancing must be practiced in any place in the facility.

n For purposes of this plan, physical distancing is 12 feet from non-household members.

n Event area, such as gyms, will be cleared after each event, cleaned, and sanitized prior to the second event taking place.

n Districts that don’t sign the new agreement will still be required to follow Stage 2 guidelines and limit spectators to 10.

n Any school or district found to be in non-compliance will 1. Receive a written warning. 2. Forfeit the event. 3. Forfeit all future athletic events for that sport during the winter season.

Allan Steele is Sports Editor of the Post Register. Reach him at 208 542-6772 and follow on Twitter at asteele12000