Hockey Season Permitted: Spectators Prohibited


Photo Kyle Azzaretto

Empty hockey rink

On Oct. 12, Governor Phil Murphy announced that all indoor sports were allowed to resume, giving permission to the 161 varsity ice hockey teams in New Jersey to play this season. 

Murphy is limiting indoor sports to either 25 people or 25 percent capacity, whichever one is smaller. For ice hockey, however, the rules are different. Considering an average high school ice hockey team consists of a maximum of 30 players, Murphy is allowing hockey teams to play, even with teams’ larger numbers. The only exception is that no spectators are allowed at the rinks, in order to adhere to social distancing protocols.

WHS Athletic Director Sandra Mamary said, “It is a little premature to be talking about the winter season. It is not the school district’s decision to ban spectators, it is up to the ice hockey rink and the state government.”

Even with the uncertainties regarding this year’s hockey season, especially because of the ever-adapting pandemic and social distancing guidelines, parents and players are speaking out on this apparent spectator ban. 

Parents of two WHS hockey players, Paul and Alexis Azzaretto said, “The capacity of these rinks is generally very high, so having spectators, even if it’s just parents, is most likely still way under the 25 percent limit. Ice hockey is no different than any other high school sport. Parents should be allowed to see their children play.”

One of the rinks that the team plays at, Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange, can fit a maximum of 2,500 in the large rink and 500 in the smaller rink. With these numbers, 25 percent capacity would be able to hold 650 people. With the size of this rink, social distancing would be simple and effective. 

One of the main issues parents and players have with this ban is that other high-risk sports like soccer and football are allowed spectators.

Paul Azzaretto asked, “One can argue football and soccer are outside, but if you are allowing people to enter inside stores, offices, restaurants and movie theaters, why would you not allow any spectators inside an ice rink?”

Along with the feeling of invalidity regarding this rule, in comparison to other sports and non-essential indoor activities that have remained open, parents feel as if they are being impacted by this ban. Alexis Azzaretto, along with most parents of these players, has been driving her children back and forth to practice, tournaments, and games for over ten years now. To her, not being able to see her children compete and enjoy their time on the ice is heartbreaking. 

This point was common amongst players and parents. Junior WHS Girls Varsity Hockey player Sam Forno said, “I understand that hockey is mainly an indoor sport, but if we’re allowed to go to school inside around hundreds of people, why can’t students and family come watch us play for an hour or two?”

WHS Boys Varsity Hockey player, senior Joey Brogan, had a different take on the spectator ban: the effect on players. He said, “I think that without fans, it will definitely be a different feel. However, I’m excited for the competition because I think it will feel more personal between the teams competing.”

Everyone agrees that it will be different this year. The feel of the rink without a cheering crowd of parents, friends, and supporters will be noticed. For many players, this has become a part of the sport itself, and one of the many reasons they love to be on the ice. 

Senior Varsity player Kyle Azzaretto said, “We’ve become accustomed to playing with spectators cheering our entire lives, and it doesn’t feel right when playing without them.”

Although things are always up in the air in 2020, it seems that this decision from the governor is here to stay. In order to have a high school hockey season, players and spectators must adhere to the changing rules. While some players are happy as long as they have a season, parents and players have proven that they will continue to be vocal until spectators are allowed to view games.