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Security will be tightened for Grand Island High School home football games

Security will be tightened for Grand Island High School home football games

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GISH Football

Daylon Keolavone, a senior for Grand Island Senior High, is brought down near the goal line by a defender during the Islanders 24-7 win over the Lincoln Pius X Thunderbolts on Friday, Sept. 4. (Independent/Carissa Soukup)

Beginning Friday, Grand Island Public Schools will increase security at its home football games to enforce its ban against visiting fans attending games because of COVID-19.

Anyone without a ticket to the game “will be asked to leave school property immediately,” according to a statement released Wednesday by GIPS. It was signed by GIPS Board of Education President Bonnie Hinkle and GIPS Superintendent Tawana Grover.

Last month, GIPS announced that fans will be restricted to four tickets for each athlete, pep band member, cheerleader and dance team member. Fans are required to wear masks at all times, following guidelines agreed to by all Heartland Athletic Conference schools. Unlike the rest of the HAC, GISH is not allowing fans from visiting teams.

In Wednesday’s news release, GISH said, “Our families have been very understanding that this temporary policy is critical to keeping them and their children safe during the pandemic. Because this short-term policy means that visiting teams’ spectators cannot attend our games this fall, we also stream the games online.

“Unfortunately, because a handful of people on social media are encouraging fans of some visiting teams to ignore our safety protocols and put our students and families at risk, we are increasing security at our remaining home football games,” the release states. “We have a responsibility to our students, families and educators to take this seriously.”

As a result, those without tickets will be asked to leave.

The Islanders host Omaha Westside at 7 p.m. Friday. GIPS official Jennifer Worthington pointed out there will be only one other home game after Friday.

GISH hosted a game against Lincoln Pius X on Sept. 4. At that game, some fans watched from outside the stadium, looking through a fence.

At the next two home games, that won’t be allowed “because of the additional security. Because of the social media posts we’ve seen, no one is allowed on our property outside the stadium. So basically, no one is allowed on GISH property unless they have a ticket,” said Worthington, who is chief of strategic partnerships and stakeholder engagement.

According to online comments, fans seated outside the stadium were charged $5 at the Sept. 4 game.

Worthington didn’t want to specify which game.

“But we did have a football game where some parents outside the fence were charged by a GIPS employee without permission,” Worthington said. “And that person has apologized and sent the money back.”

In Wednesday’s announcement, titled “An open letter to the Grand Island community,” the district stated, “Our main priority this school year in Grand Island Public Schools has been to keep schools open and safe so that students can learn in person. Because of the hard work of our teachers, school leaders, families and students, we have made it through six weeks of at-school learning. We want to continue to build on this important momentum.

“We created our strict safety protocols for both the school day and sporting events in partnership with the Board of Education and local public health officials, and we need our community’s help to continue to prioritize the health and safety of our students, families and educators,” the release continues.

The decision was made at the beginning of the school year to limit the number of Grand Island fans at games “so that we can avoid having large crowds at the school,” the news release indicates. “Our families have been very understanding that this temporary policy is critical to keeping them and their children safe during the pandemic. Because this short-term policy means that visiting teams’ spectators cannot attend our games this fall, we also stream the games online.

“We, as adults, must put the safety of our children first. Please help us make football games a safe and enjoyable event for players and to give them a chance to play without being distracted. We look forward to returning to our regular football game ticketing next school year.

“GIPS will continue to monitor and evaluate our guidelines for winter sports and will update the community on any changes,” according to the news release. “Let’s stay unified as a community in combating this COVID-19 pandemic, so that we can keep GIPS moving forward and our children in the classroom learning. We are grateful to our community for working with us to make this school year — as untraditional as it has been — as safe and productive as possible for our students and staff. Together, we can ensure the health and safety of our school community!”

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