The Chattanooga Red Wolves are drawing ever-closer to the start of their season, and perhaps more importantly, the debut of the new CHI Memorial Stadium. CHI Memorial doctor Mark D. Anderson was at Tuesday’s practice, and said he believed having a reduced number of fans at the game should be safe.
“I don’t know exactly what the plan is for fans, but a big thing is that being outside is much safer in general with all respiratory infections, including this one,” said Dr. Anderson. “If you’re outside and people aren’t all bunched up together, you can do that safely. When they are bunched together, they should be masked.”
Red Wolves’ General Manager Sean McDaniel elaborated on what the doctor said. He said the team has a detailed plan in regard to how fans will conduct themselves within the stadium.
“When it’s all said and done, we can only get about 25 percent capacity in here safely while socially distancing,” said McDaniel. “The way we have it laid out is that everyone has an assigned seat, and there is no ticket for sale walking up, so everything is online and reserved. There’s no crossing of paths when sitting in your seat.”
McDaniel also said fans are not required to wear masks while at the stadium. However, he said rules will be enforced during the game, and anyone exhibiting COVID-like symptoms will not be allowed in.
“While we understand the mask mandate in place, it’s not necessary to wear them in the stadium, since it’s an outdoor venue,” said McDaniel, “but we strongly encourage them to have masks. We follow the same processes other institutions follow. So the signage is very clear that if you experience any of these symptoms or have a fever, you’ll be asked to leave and not return until symptom free. So not dissimilar to many other professional sports organizations.”
Head coach Jimmy Obleda and the team have also instituted rules designed to minimize the possible spread of the virus. He said players have to wear a mask whenever they are not on the field, which means they must put one on as they leave, and wear one as they enter the stadium.
Coach Obleda also said that while some players may find it to be a nuisance, they realize it is a necessary action in order to have any sort of a shortened season.
“It is what it is, and you have to live with it,” said coach Obleda. “Do we like wearing a mask? No, but what are you going to do about it? I can’t say there have been any players I’ve had to force to wear it, because they understand that if they get sick, they understand they don’t play. They’ve been locked up for so long they’re just ready to be on the field.”
Dr. Anderson spoke with the players about the importance of social distancing, hand-washing, and wearing a mask. He pushed back against the belief that wearing a mask signifies anything else other than a concern for one another’s safety.
“With masks, spacing people out, and hand hygiene, we can take care of people safely,” said Dr. Anderson. “A person who has it but may not know it, them wearing a mask can keep them from spreading it to someone else. Wearing a mask is not a mark of fear or weakness, or compliance to the system or whatever words you want to use. It’s a mark of consideration for your fellow human beings.”
While CHI Memorial Stadium can hold fans, it is far from finished. McDaniel said the completion date is fluid at the moment, and parts of the stadium will be added gradually.
“The conclusion date will be a moving target until the whole development is built out,” said McDaniel. “The good news is that we have enough capacity to get several hundred people in the stands. What will continue to evolve as time moves on is the locker rooms, the club house, the executive club, and all the amenities that will go around.”
The proposed schedule for a shortened season was also thrown into the trash can when Toronto’s USL League One team had to pull out of the season because of Canada’s travel policy. The shortened season was originally going to be 20 games long, but it could be shorter than that after this development.
“We had a schedule, and then Toronto had to back out at the last minute because of Canada’s 14 day protocol, so there was a reshuffling of the deck,” said McDaniel. “The season will kick off on Saturday, and we’re expecting to have a schedule out to the public any day now. Our hope is to be in here on Aug. 1 or Aug. 8, and if so, we’ll be ready to play.”
Coach Obleda said his biggest concern for the season is his players’ health, since they have only been doing full-contact training for around two weeks. He said he hopes to escape the first couple of games with no major injuries, and remained optimistic for the future.
“I’m hoping that by this time next year, we’re talking about how we all survived the pandemic and everything is fine and we can move forward,” said coach Obleda. “For the time being, everything has to be different.”