Clear Fork Fans

Clear Fork fans sitting in their assigned boxes on the hill beside the home bleachers during last week's season opener against Lucas.

BELLVILLE — Before becoming Clear Fork’s athletic director, Jeff Gottfried taught mathematics in the district for two decades. But this time the equation he was trying to solve was unsolvable.

“I have to figure out how to give every participant 1.6 tickets,” Gottfried said incredulously when asked what football Friday nights at the Colt Corral were going to look like amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Athletic directors all across Ohio — many of whom don’t have Gottfried’s math credentials or acumen — are scratching their heads while trying to figure out how to divide and distribute a fraction of the usual number of available tickets among athletes and their families. For most, it’s proving to be an exercise in futility.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine approved a state health department order clearing the way for the return of contact sports, but the mandate limited the number of fans who could attend outdoor events to 15 percent of the fixed seating capacity or 1,500, whichever is less.

For smaller schools, that number is considerably less.

“At 15 percent capacity, we can fit 126 people on the home side and 55 on the visitor’s side. Our total capacity is 181,” Lucas athletic director Taylor Iceman said. “We have a decent-sized stadium for a school our size. It’s not small by any means.”

Lucas, the defending Division VII state runner-up, traditionally fills up Bob Wine Field on Friday nights. In an effort to satisfy his rabid fan base, Iceman decided the Cubs would play all of their games on the road.

Lucas is a de facto member of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference, a north central Ohio-based league that includes Richland County school Clear Fork, Shelby and Ontario as well as nearby Galion. All of those schools are Division IV and having significantly bigger stadiums than Lucas.

“I’ve been telling everybody we’re kind of lucky to be playing these bigger schools because they have bigger venues,” Iceman said. “We can actually get more parents there than we can at home.

“This week at Ontario they are going to give us three tickets for each participant.”

The Cubs were supposed to open the season at home against Clear Fork. That game was moved to Bellville, where Gottfried received some reprieve from the state. The Colt Corral only has one section of bleachers on the home side, but fans have for years set up lawn chairs and put down blankets on the hill flanking the bleachers.

“We since have expanded our capacity with our variance of green space,” Gottfried said. “Now my capacity is 782. That equates to approximately four tickets per participant.

“We painted boxes on the hillside and we knew we could fit four lawn chairs comfortably where a family could sit together while maintaining the six feet of social distancing in all directions.”

Further complicating the issue for Gottfried is the fact Clear Fork boasts a 113-piece marching band which plays at all home games. Gottfried moved the band from its traditional spot in the student section bleachers behind the west end zone to the space behind the east end zone.

“That way our student section bleachers (the student body isn’t permitted to attend games, per the state health order) and our band bleachers become open seating for anybody who wants to sit there.”

At Hillsdale in nearby Ashland County, athletic director Jodi Long found an even more creative solution to the limited attendance dilemma. The Falcons are playing their three home games at Ashland’s Community Stadium.

“We were going to be able to give two tickets per family if we played at (Hillsdale),” Long said. “At Ashland, we can fit 600 so we planned for each family to get six.”

Hillsdale already was scheduled to play some of its home games at Ashland because of a scheduled demolition project at the site of the current high school. Hillsdale will soon begin construction on a new K-12 campus.

“At the end of the (regularly-scheduled) season we were planning to move our games to Ashland because of the construction,” Long said. “Because of COVID the season got shortened and we could have played all of our home games, but we were really going to be limited in terms of seating so we decided to keep our games at Ashland.

“This arrangement has really worked out nice for us.”

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I have covered high school sports in Richland County since 2000. Email him at curt@richlandsource.com or follow him on Twitter: Follow @curtjconrad on twitter.