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SHS seniors allowed to attend final football game

One hundred Smithfield High School seniors had the opportunity to attend the final home game of the school’s football season April 2.

Statewide COVID-19 restrictions resulted in football and other sports typically played in the fall moving to a condensed season spanning March through April. As of April 1, the state’s limit on public gatherings loosened to permit up to 500 attendees at high school sporting events.

Under the previous 250-person limit, which counted cheerleaders and high school band members as spectators, attendance had been capped at two guests per player.

In light of the new 500-person limit, several hundred SHS seniors had petitioned school officials to allow them back onto the bleachers at Packer Field for the April 2 game.

“Prom has been canceled, all dances, all gatherings, and we are still unsure about graduation … With these guidelines changing dramatically, us seniors all want to have at least one event that we can attend and enjoy as the quarantined class of 2021,” writes SHS senior Kyera Gambill, the organizer of a Change.org petition to Isle of Wight County’s School Board, which 455 people, many of them seniors and their family members, signed.

According to school division spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, SHS Principal Bryan Thrift was out at the stadium the day after becoming aware of the petition, doing the math to see if the venue could accommodate any more spectators while still adhering to Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive orders and social distancing. He determined Packer Field could accommodate 100 additional spectators.

Even with the relaxed attendance rules, the April 2 game — which doubled as senior night, where graduating players, band members and cheerleaders are honored — looked a little different this year. The school division made last-minute changes to the scheduled game upon learning of a student on Jamestown High School’s football team, which was to play Smithfield, having tested positive for COVID-19.

“We immediately started contacting other schools in the Hampton Roads area to secure an alternative opponent. Unfortunately, we had no luck,” said SHS Principal Bryan Thrift via a letter to parents. “Many of our neighboring schools have rules in place that prevent play outside of their district or were already scheduled to play in a game on Friday.”

Instead, the school hosted an inter-squad blue versus white game consisting of two 12-minute running clock halves with stoppage during timeouts. Each varsity football player, band member and cheerleader was allowed two guests per the previous limit, but those seniors who submitted their names via an online form last week were allowed access to the game. According to Briggs, there were a total of 50 seniors at the game, including among the players, band members and cheerleaders.

“It was so nice to be able to get out there and support our boys,” said SHS senior Liv Pack. “After the beautiful weather we had all week, it of course was freezing cold in the final Friday night lights game but all of our Packer Pride was on full blast for the seniors’ last hoorah.”