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Visiting football fans should be welcome in Grand Island

Visiting football fans should be welcome in Grand Island

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Grand Island is known as one of the more hospitable communities in Nebraska, even during a pandemic.

We offer two recent examples to back up that statement.

Last weekend’s Aksarben Livestock Show was an overwhelming success, with more than 1,300 young exhibitors from 14 states showing more than 3,500 head of livestock and poultry. It seems that Grand Island was the center of the livestock show universe as thousands of people came to town. The red carpet was rolled out and there was not a motel room to be found and restaurant and shopping sales showed an uptick, according to local business experts.

The second body of proof that Grand Island is a city with open arms is, no doubt, the Nebraska State Fair. We welcomed Nebraskans from all corners of the state and showed them a great time despite limited State Fair activities centered around 4-H and FFA. Again, local officials were pleased with the turnout during those 11 days.

Grand Island’s economy relies heavily on the hospitality we show visitors to our city. We certainly want them to feel welcome to return for shopping, fun and business.

There is one thing happening in our community right now that has people thumbing their nose at Grand Island — the Grand Island Public Schools decision to not allow visiting fans to come watch their kids compete against the Islanders.

We understand the cautious approach by school district officials to ensure that our students remain in the classroom as long as possible for the best learning environment. And, yes, efforts must be made to protect the health of GIPS students and staff members.

But we believe the no opposing fans attendance policy should be rescinded and we should welcome the parents, grandparents and fans of other high schools around the state to Grand Island, the community we love and call home. The perception among visiting fans is that they are not welcome here and, boy, talk about a home-field advantage against their kids. Last weekend, Omaha Westside parents were turned away at the stadium gates by Grand Island Police because of the GIPS policy.

However, a group of Islander parents made an extraordinary effort to host Westside parents and fans with a tailgate picnic of sorts at a nearby Grand Island park — complete with TVs and snacks — so they could watch their sons compete.

If a policy doesn’t make sense, those responsible for its implementation must revisit the issue.

GIPS school board members, there’s no doubt there is a better solution than banning opposing fans and alienating visitors to our community. There has to be a logistical solution that allows opposing fans access to watch the game inside the stadium or gym and keep them safe along with Islander families and fans.

After some unscientific research, Grand Island appears to be the only district in Nebraska that has banned visiting fans from high school games. Many are limiting attendance and that’s OK.

Even the Nebraska School Activities Association appears to have addressed the “Grand Island issue” earlier this week when it released the health protocols for postseason events.

According to the NSAA, these protocols will be in effect for all subdistrict, district and playoff contests:

—  Participants are permitted to wear face coverings during competition, but not required.

—  Coaches and nonactive participants are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings.

—  Spectators are required to wear face coverings at all times while attending indoor events.

—  Spectators are required to wear face coverings at all times while attending outdoor events when physical distancing (6 feet) is not possible.

—  The host school may establish additional requirements in consultation with local health departments. Any additional requirements implemented by the host school must be the same for all teams, officials and spectators. (This seems to be the ‘Grand Island Rule’).

—  To advance in the fall postseason a team or individual must participate in their state qualifying contests. If a school is unable to participate due to COVID-19, contests will not be postponed.

The Islanders are on the road the next two Fridays, undoubtedly with their own fans in tow, for games at Papillion-La Vista South and Millard North.

We challenge the GIPS School Board to change the policy in time to allow Norfolk fans to attend the game on Oct. 16 at Memorial Stadium and to allow opposing fans for whatever postseason play lies ahead. Let’s not forget basketball and wrestling are just around the corner.

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