Athletes Reenergized as Student Fans Return to the Stands

Students cheer in the bleachers at the GDS–Maret men’s varsity basketball game on Feb. 7. Photo by Reid Alexander.

On Jan. 10, five days after GDS students returned to school from winter break, Athletic Director David Gillespie sent an email announcing that the Independent School League (ISL) and Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAC) had changed their rules as a result of rising COVID cases and wouldn’t allow fans other than immediate family members or guardians to attend sports games.

On the day that Gillespie’s email was sent, there were over a thousand new COVID cases in D.C. alone, bringing the total number of cases in the District to 117,586.

“It makes such a difference if there are or aren’t fans in the stadium, because it’s just very quiet when there’s nobody there,” Greg Dallinger, a science teacher who controls the scoreboard for many sports games, said. “Basketball is always better the more people in the stands, especially in our gym.”

“Not being able to go watch and cheer on our teams is definitely frustrating,” said senior Ike Cymerman. “I think that was a shared sentiment throughout our grade and the rest of the school.”

Senior Dylan Bronner, a player on the men’s varsity basketball team, said that the lack of fans in the stands made it harder for players to keep up morale. “It was a major shift in atmosphere; not having fans made it feel different,” he said. “I mean, without the fans it’s a lot harder to create that same energy.”

Though he was disappointed that fans weren’t allowed to attend games, Bronner said that he understood the reason for the decision and agreed with it. “The safety of all of the players and everybody that goes to the games is obviously first, and you just have to keep as many people safe as you can,” he said. “So that’s all there is to it.”

“I think we’ve moved in a really safe manner,” Gillespie said of the leagues’ policies on spectator regulations. “The number one goal is to make sure we had as normal a winter athletic season as possible. Some schools had to cancel games really early in the year, and because of the steps we took, right now we’re on pace to get a complete regular season in and a tournament.”

The restrictions on attendance lasted for roughly three weeks. In early February, each of the schools in the ISL and MAC decided to repeal the policies and allow all fans back into games.

GDS students discovered the news that they could return to sporting events in the monthly newsletter sent by Principal Katie Gibson on Feb. 2. In the letter, she wrote, “Our winter sports teams have been having an incredible season, and we are excited to have fans back in the bleachers!”

By the time the limitations were lifted, COVID numbers in D.C. were down by more than one thousand cases per day.

Dallinger believes that having fans at games is very important not only for their own enjoyment, but also to help out the players. “It does not take many students to create a loud, good, healthy atmosphere,” he said. “We’ve all been in the gym before; if you have 10 or 15 people in there, it makes all the difference. There’s a homecourt advantage for a reason—it gives the gym more energy, which the players feed off.”

On Monday, Feb. 7, the men’s varsity basketball team played Maret at one of the first home games since regulations were lifted. Students packed the stands to watch the teams compete.

“The fans were awesome,” Gillespie said of the GDS–Maret game. “I wish we could have had them all season, but I actually think that if we had gotten everyone packed in here right away, it’s a higher risk that might’ve shut down winter sports. It’s great to have them back.”