The howl of the Skyline Coyotes crowd was fainter in 2020 than in years prior with limited fan attendance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
All high schools in Maricopa County were required to limit their attendance, though some schools opted to not allow any fans into the stadium. Skyline decided to allow four fans for every player as well as an allotment of $5 general admission tickets.
“Obviously the school is making less money and the experience is different with less fans in the stands, but I think everybody is more concerned about safety than finances at the time,” head coach George Hawthorne said.
The fan attendance policy altered the game experience for players, who are typically fueled by the home crowd.
“It’s been a little change for sure,” linebacker Zeke Branham said. “We normally feed off the crowd in big momentum changing plays, but it’s nothing too drastic. I feed off the crowd's energy for sure. Anytime I make a huge play and I hear the roars in the background, it gives me an adrenaline rush.”
“It’s definitely a different environment and you can definitely feel the different level of energy,” quarterback Jack Nelson added. “The crowd just feeds energy after a good play hearing all of the screams and yelling. It definitely fed ‘my dog’ in me.”
These issues were not only felt at Skyline. As a result, Branham pointed out that there really wasn’t a home-field advantage this season.
“It’s been pretty much the same as the other schools,” Branham said. “They all are limited to smaller amounts of students and family seating.”
Although the lack of noise affects the play on the field, it does help in some aspects.
Football is a team sport, and communication is a big part of that. Play calls and signals are echoed across the field every play. Also, assignments and tells are relayed during plays amongst teammates.
“It’s a little bit easier to get some play calls off for sure,” Branham said. “If there’s a big crowd that’s really into it, play calls be tough, so we don’t have to worry about that this year.”
Hawthorne, however, is concerned about how this will impact his players going forward.
Players who were on varsity in 2019 have the experience of playing in front of larger crowds. However, if larger crowds return in 2021, nearly the entire team will have zero experience dealing with the noise.
“Anytime you have an impact on any season you have an impact on future seasons,” Hawthorne said. “Those players who did not play did not get the reps and the exposure they could’ve gotten.”
At the end of the day, the Coyotes were just happy to be playing football.
“I love games with packed stands, but fans or no fans, as long as I’m playing, I'm having fun,” Nelson said.
Dominic Stearn is a sports journalism major at Arizona State University covering Skyline High School.