By Sean Chase, Anthony Clark Jr. and Kaia Zimmerman
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Grand Rapids Community College is preparing to allow a limited number of fans into the Ford Fieldhouse for sporting events starting March 9.
“As of right now, we’re doing a limited amount of spectators to start off with,” said Whitney Marsh, Director of the Ford Fieldhouse. “So right now we are allowing each student-athlete to have two tickets to use for different guests and that is for the home team and the away team student-athletes. The head coaches for both programs get two tickets as well.”
On March 2, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that sporting events in Michigan could begin implementing procedures for fans to return to arenas. Once this was announced GRCC Interim Athletic Director David Selmon and Marsh went to work creating a plan for fans to return that is safe for all parties.
“GRCC is definitely following all the guidelines as it relates to what the state set out there,” said Selmon. “We don’t plan to exceed that, we’re just trying to do things slowly, but we do plan to roll it out with all of the protocols safely. Safety is of the utmost (importance).”
In order to keep individual safety at the forefront of GRCC’s plan to welcome back fans, GRCC is taking its time with the rollout, meaning the doors will remain closed for nonessential personnel until further notice.
“We’re kind of taking it game by game, to be honest,” said Marsh. “As of right now we would rather start a little bit smaller and work our way up than to open the floodgates. We want to make sure that all of our facility protocols and procedures are followed, and it’s easier to do with a smaller group upfront.”
The protocols fans will have to follow will include a registration and temperature checking process upon entering the building.
“We have a protocol where (fans) have to register, they have to show (identification) at the gate and they have to pass our temperature check,” said Selmon when asked about the process for fans to attend games. “They’ll be escorted to a seat, social distancing as much as possible, and we will be clearing the gym after each contest to allow other fans to come in, other parents of players for basketball games.”
Clearing out the gym after each contest, is only an issue for parents of the GRCC basketball teams, as the men’s games tip-off directly after the women finish their game.
For GRCC athletes, this development allowing their families to watch them compete is game-changing.
“It’s amazing that we get to have spectators,” said Gabi Kitley, a sophomore outside hitter for the GRCC volleyball team. “The whole team has been praying for this opportunity since day one. Having the support there, that each of us has individually had for our whole lives means a lot. The people that watched us grow up and get to where we are can finally watch us play again! It means the world to the girls to have our supporters on our side, cheering us on and hopefully it brings us to big wins throughout the season.”
Olivia Koetje, a sophomore guard for the GRCC women’s basketball team, believes this will help the teams maintain momentum throughout the season.
“It means the world to me for my family and friends to be able to come and watch me play again,” said Koetje. “I think the fans will bring a different kind of energy that my team will feed off of, and I’m so excited for it. I think having fans will have a good impact in our future games.”
Even with all of these changes, the GRCC Athletic department, the Ford Fieldhouse staff and the athletes are prepared to welcome fans into games on Tuesday, March 9, when the volleyball team faces off against the nationally-ranked Jayhawks of Muskegon Community College at 6:30 p.m. If you aren’t directly related to an athlete, you can catch the live-stream of the contest on the GRCC Athletics Youtube channel.