(Update: Adding video, comments from school officials, students and athletes)
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The crowds for basketball games and all other extracurricular activities are going to look a little smaller for Bend-La Pine Schools, at least for now.
The district just updated its spectator policy due to the rapid spread of COVID-19, allowing each player, coach or club member four guest passes per game, with no open admission.
The announcement was part of the district's Friday "Key Updates" due to COVID-19, as officials also warned families to prepare for a potential return to remote learning due to cases, quarantines and staff shortages.
Whitney Tone, a junior girls basketball player, said Monday the limit will have an effect on the team.
“I think it will be a little bit harder, because the student section gives you energy and makes the game more fun,” Tone said.
Dave Williams, athletic director for Bend-La Pine Schools and Caldera High, said the move comes in response to the Oregon Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority letter calling for more Covid guidelines, and even the cancellation of some extra-curriculars.
“The big crowds are going to be limited, and the atmosphere will definitely change, but we're going to keep the kids playing, the coaches coaching and press on through,” Williams said.
He said this is the best option to keep kids playing and also keep them in school.
The students and athletes have been dealing with change for almost two years.
In March of 2020 having no sports, then bringing sports with no fans a year later, adding few spectators, working all the way up to having full capacity this past fall -- and now back to only having a few spectators allowed.
Kate Koblegarde, a junior at Bend High and manager for the boys basketball team, is surprised this level of spectators is even allowed.
“Well, before, when Covid was a lot better than it is now, the limit was two people. So I’m kind of in shock that they’re letting each player have four people now,” Koblegarde said.
Tone said the past two years have been tough to navigate.
“It’s been super weird,” she said. “This year was getting back to normal pretty much, with us getting to go to the Salem schools, which is nice. But we're going back to it again.”
Koblegarde and Tone know what a lack of fans can do for their teams.
“Sometimes it's a make or break of giving the team energy and getting through the game, getting a comeback. So it definitely can affect the players,” Koblegarde said.
And some students, including Bend High sophomore Jack Steinman, aren't happy about it either.
“I mean if we’re going to get it (COVID), we're going to get it at school. Same people at the games doesn’t really make sense to me,” Steinman said.
He said he enjoys going to the games, but it’s unlikely he’ll get an invite from a player.
But Koblegarde and Tone say they feel at this time, it's the safe thing to do.
“Yeah, I think it's the right move, because people are always sitting really close to each other in the student section,” Koblegarde said.
“I know a lot of people who have gotten COVID recently, and I think it could be dangerous,” Tone chimed in.
Williams said the district will reevaluate in three to four weeks, and he hopes to get more students safely back in the gym.