Based on the decision made by The Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, sporting events that are held outside at Fort Lewis College are now allowed to have fans in attendance while following local health guidelines, Brandon Leimbach, FLC athletic director, said.
“We submitted a Covid Operational Plan to San Juan Basin Health,” Leimbach said.
The Covid Operational Plan shows San Juan Basin Health who FLC is testing, including signs posted around the facilities requiring fans to distance and wear a mask, and mandates that only single occupancy restrooms at these outdoor athletic events can be used, Lemibach said.
FLC has an Environmental Health and Safety supervisor at San Juan Basin Health named Ryan Worth, Leimbach said.
Worth has been the director of Covid operations throughout the pandemic, Leimbach said.
“We just get with him and present all the mitigation efforts,” Leimbach said.
The EHS monitors testing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation protocols, Lemibach said.
FLC also uses local Covid guidelines to determine how they, as a school, are proceeding with allowing fans into these events, Leimbach said.
Currently, 175 fans are allowed to be in attendance for all home Skyhawk games while the county is in yellow regarding where it is with Covid , Leimbach said.
Having fans in attendance for the first time since the 2020 season came to an abrupt end is not a worry that the athletic department at FLC has, but there is always risk and worry in regard to contracting the virus, Leimbach said.
“Because they’re outside and are so far away from the fans, they’re never even within 30 feet, let alone six feet of the fans,” Leimbach said. “I’m just happy we can do it, I think it’s healthy to get people outside doing positive things.”
While following the National Collegiate Athletic Association's testing protocols and the local and campus health guidelines, Kendra Keahbone, senior softball player, says she feels safe while competing with fans in the stands.
“We’re taking the right precautions, people are socially distanced, wearing their masks and I know that a lot of our families test before coming up to see us play,” Keahbone said.
Having multiple 2020 athletic seasons end early due to the outbreak of the pandemic, coaches and athletes are looking at fans as an added bonus to this new year and new season these teams are getting.
“It was really hard when our season ended abruptly, but now being able to have our families and friends here, and just having a crowd keeps us pumped,” Keahbone said.
The early end to the 2020 season was not easy on the student athletes who were involved in FLC athletics, Taylor Beman, junior softball player, said.
“We were on such a high, and then it ended so quickly,” Beaman said.
It was also not easy for the athletic department to make the decision to close everything down last year due to the outbreak of the pandemic, Leimbach said.
“Last year when we closed it down, it felt like we were breaking people’s dreams,” Leimbach said.
Although the cancellation of the season was disappointing, the NCAA is granting one extra year of eligibility to the players affected by the 2020 season getting cut short, Beaman said.
“I was really excited to have that chance to have that eligibility again,” Beaman said.
The disappointing early end to the 2020 season did not squash all hope for the future of athletics as many teams at FLC have gotten their new seasons underway.
“We’re excited, we’re ready to play, and get back to normal,” head softball coach Ashley Reeves said.
Softball is not the only sport that will have fans this spring, Lemibach said.
“We will have our lacrosse, soccer, and one football game,” Leimbach said.
The athletic department at FLC is committed to providing the best possible experience to the fans they can, while also being cautious and following health and safety guidelines that have been put in place so that the student athletes can have the season they have been waiting for, Leimbach said.
“At the end of the day, we just want our student athletes to have a safe, and have a memorable experience playing sports for Fort Lewis College,” Leimbach said.
In attempts to mitigate the spread of the virus but also having fans in attendance at these sporting events, the athletic department has taken the time to send out reminders to the families of the student athletes to follow protocols and guidelines that we are following here on campus to keep the student athletes safe, Lemibach said.
The parents are masking up, and keeping their distance from the players and other fans, Leimbach said.
“Parents have been unbelievable, they want to see their kids play sports just as bad as the athletes themselves want to play them,” Leimbach said.
With some athletic seasons in full swing and others waiting for their turn to start, players and coaches are excited with the new approval of fans being allowed to be in attendance at the home sporting events, Reeves said.
“We’re ready to have people come out and move on with our life,” Reeves said.
The pandemic has affected school spirit due to the lack of fans in attendance and students not being able to support fellow Skyhawks, Leimbach said.
It’s an unintended consequence of not being allowed to have fans at sporting events due to the time that we are in, Leimbach said.
The pandemic has been difficult for student athletes here at FLC, but with the RMAC making the decision to allow for fans to be in attendance, the school spirit is making a comeback, Leimbach said.
Having a crowd keeps the teams pumped and excited to play, Beaman said.
The more comfortable the students and other supporters get with Covid-19, the more fans we are hoping will come out to support the Skyhawks in a Covid-19 safe way, Leimbach said.
“We really love the support and seeing fans at the field, it’s just nice to get back to sort-of normal life,” Beaman said.