Sep. 2—A petition has started circulating on social media in an attempt to get the Aiken County high school bands back in the football stands.
As of last year, Aiken County high school bands were required to play behind the end zone instead of in the stands because of COVID-19. An anonymous user created a petition on change.org to allow the bands to play in the stands again. As of Thursday afternoon, it had more than 1,500 signatures.
"If we put them in the stands, it's not going to be the same as putting a fan in the stands," said Dr. Corey Murphy, the Chief Officer of Operations and Student Services. "They have to be separated because they are blowing these wind instruments. That's a higher risk factor for spreading the virus, so we have to make sure they have plenty of space between each member of the band."
Stadiums are allowed to be at 70% capacity for football games and when the band is in the stands, the band members count towards that percentage, said Murphy.
"It was not about the money, it was about the capacity of the venue and the safety of the students as well as the fans," Murphy said.
He added that each band member would have to socially distance with 6 feet in the front, back and both sides of each person.
"The band will be allowed to perform and to stand in the end zone and actually have chairs in the end zone. That way they can be spaced out properly, because while you are playing your wind instruments, you're supposed to have even more social distancing and they would not count against the fans trying to get into the game," Murphy said.
Dr. Murphy added that it is a school's decision whether to use chairs or not. He said chairs have always been an option for the band students and there is not charge for chairs to be placed on the field.
Dena Thomas, the booster president at North Augusta High, said band students being in the stands versus being behind the goal post is "completely different".
"When you've got the band in the stands, they are a part of the team on the home side and the band projects to the away side, and every time North Augusta gets a touchdown the band just completely blasts away the away side and it's a feeling of camaraderie — it's amazing," Thomas said.
North Augusta band director, Chuck Deen said he is thrilled to continue to have band and that the students "deserve to have the right to have the best performance opportunities available." He added that the band students need to feel involved in the activities of school life.
"It (band) provides a family atmosphere, band is very important to band members, what they do in school life and in the community. I feel very fortunate that the community of North Augusta respects and appreciates the hard work that the North Augusta High School band and middle school bands do," Deen said.
Murphy said the district is an extreme fan of the band, fine arts and athletic programs.
"The district's intent is solely to maximize the opportunity to have safe sporting event as well as expeditions of band performances without compromising or risking the student's health and welfare," Murphy said.