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High school football looks very different in its return amid the COVID-19 pandemic
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High school football looks very different in its return amid the COVID-19 pandemic

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Fans attend the first football game of the season at Hammonton High School on Friday. Around the region, fans were greeted at fields with signs requiring them to wear masks and keep their distance from others.

Normally, the concession stand at Hammonton High School football games is packed with home and visiting fans lining up to sample their famous sausage and peppers.

But that was not the case Friday night, as the Blue Devils opened the season against Millville at Robert Capoferri Field.

High school football returned around the state Friday night, a month later than normal, but it looked very different than what fans are used to because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everybody here, it’s really a great group of people,” said Hammonton booster club President Bob Esau. “Everybody is upbeat. I think people want to go outside and do something. We are doing the social distance. Listen, it’s new for everyone.”

Around the region, fans were greeted at fields with signs requiring them to wear masks and keep their distance from other fans.

And there were no sausage and peppers at the stand in Hammonton.

Each menu item was individually wrapped so that nothing was touched or cross-contaminated, like hotdogs and pretzels.

Fans like Mike Martinez, of Millville, started coming to the stand about 15 minutes before kickoff.

Martinez said he felt safe there.

“You’re going to have to do what you have to do,” Martinez said.

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It will be a season unlike any other in New Jersey high school football history because of the pandemic.

No more than 500 fans can attend some games, under state Department of Health regulations. Some schools are letting just parents and guardians in the stands.

Schools will play six regular season games and then be seeded into pods of four for what is being described as two “Postseason Groups” games. These pods will take into consideration each school’s enrollment and geography, while striving for competitive balance.

There will be no awards or championships.

“Every day there’s something new to adjust to, but we’re out here playing football,” said Steve Normane, Holy Spirit athletic director, before the Spartans’ game against rival St. Joe Academy. “It doesn’t look the same, but we’re playing football.”

By the time the ball was kicked off in Atlantic City’s opening home game against Oakcrest, no more than 20 spectators could be seen on either team’s bleachers.

Still, the ones who did come said it was great to be there.

“(My friend and I) were both just saying that we were excited that they were actually able to have a season altogether,” said 40-year-old Alena Feliciano, whose son Kaleb is a senior at Atlantic City. “Even though it’s a modified season and it’s short, we’re just excited for the boys that they actually can play the few games they can play.”

According to Phil Monzo, father of Oakcrest junior Tyler, each player on the team was allowed two tickets for parents or other family members. Despite being part of what he considered the least-attended opening Friday night since his son’s been in high school, he was happy for the players.

“It’s a great feeling, to be honest with you,” said Phil Monzo, 46. “It’s a really, really great feeling. It’s what these kids need. They’ve been cooped up in the house.”

Staff Writers Michael McGarry, Patrick Mulranen and Ahmad Austin contributed to this report.

Contact: 609-272-7046

nhuba@pressofac.com

Twitter @acpresshuba

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