The Hempfield School Board passed a measure at the Sept. 22 Building and Grounds Board committee meeting to increase limits on spectator capacity at its home extracurricular events.
Essentially, tickets are pre-issued to allow parents to attend games, but families must maintain social distancing from other families and must wear masks or face coverings.
The move came after a Sept. 14 ruling by a federal judge in western Pennsylvania. William S. Stickman IV ruled that Gov. Tom Wolf's limits on gatherings (no more than 25 people at an indoor gathering, no more than 250 people at an outdoor gathering) were unconstitutional. Stickman doubled down on that assessment Sept. 21.
Wolf's limitations have especially presented challenges to girls volleyball matches, many of which saw scrimmages where bench players had to remain in the hallway in order to not exceed 25 people inside the gymnasium.
At Monday's season-opener for the defending District 3-4A champion Hempfield girls volleyball team, however, the recent measure passed by the school board resulted in a limited number of spectators being allowed in. It also allowed bench players to be inside the gym, spaced six feet apart on the sidelines in order to maintain social distancing.
At Hempfield, referees and players are encouraged to wear masks or face coverings, but it's not required.
Hempfield senior Emma Bitner said Black Knights' players have opted to wear masks in practices and games this season in order to limit the chances of getting COVID-19. It's also why girls volleyball teams throughout the state this season will remain on one side of the court for the entire match, following a guideline in the PIAA's 26-page return-to-play policy issued over the summer.
“We're willing to make sacrifices in order to be able to play,” Bitner said.
Bitner is the lone returner who saw significant playing time in last year's playoff run to the district championship and state semifinals.
She’s also one of six Hempfield seniors who were honored before Monday's season-opener as part of a Senior Night ceremony. Those ceremonies typically come on the final home regular season game, but Hempfield opted to hold Senior Night on its season-opener just in case the season were to be postponed or canceled at a later date, as happened to other sports last March.
Add up all of the above, and throw in the fact Penn Manor played its season-opener last week, and it may have contributed to the Knights' slow start Monday before ultimately prevailing in three games, 25-20, 25-20, 25-16.
Penn Manor, a five-win team a year ago with three returning starters, jumped out to an 18-12 lead in the first game before Hempfield prevailed.
“We were all kind of nervous,” Bitner said. “Senior Night. First game of the season. I think after we realized we just had to come back, we just pulled it all together and were able to play together.”
Hempfield (1-0 league, 1-0 overall) was led by senior Ashley Weaver (five aces), senior Emily James (six kills, one ace, one assist), Bitner (three aces, one kill, 19 assists), junior Josléne Morgan (five kills, one assist) and senior Morgan Minnich (three kills).
Penn Manor (0-1, 1-1) was paced by senior Jodan Schucker (71 assists), senior Lexington Sangrey (13 kills), sophomore Cassidy McCollum (eight kills) and senior Madison Trout (two blocks).