Empty stands, full spirits

Band, cheer, football seniors reflect on COVID-19 changes


The stands should be packed, students standing elbow to elbow beaming with pride watching their Mustangs perform. Students should be anticipating their senior nights, celebrating  all that the class of 2021 has accomplished. Lately, it feels like many things that should be happening just aren’t.

The restriction of fall activities has hit MN hard. Football players, cheerleaders, dancers, and drum majors alike are all mourning the loss of their typical Friday Night Lights experience. 

“It’s a different feel when you’re out on the field, and you look up and see very few people. Your friends and classmates just aren’t there,” senior football player Ben    Wilczewski said.

In conjunction with in-school precautions like masks and social distancing to the best of everyone’s abilities, each  activity has been taking their own steps to protect themselves from COVID-19.

“We always wear masks, and when we can’t, our coaches make sure that we are staying six feet apart. We are also getting tested when someone gets exposed,” senior cheerleader Emma Hasenjager said. 

The MN marching band is a vital part of school spirit that has been easy to dismiss as impossible during the pandemic. However, the program is making strides towards safety for students and staff. 

“For performing, we have special performance masks,” senior drum major Hailey Revord said. “We keep them on the entire time, even when we’re playing. We have a top loop that ties around the head and then you can fit your instrument under it.”  

The most significant change to football games is the student section. For the first two games, the crowd was strictly the four family members brought by players.

“Normally before the game I would talk to my friends in the student section, and not having them there was pretty weird to me. It felt like a totally different atmosphere and not like I was even cheering at a game” Hasenjager said.

Bonding between activities has also been affected this year. In lieu of football and cheer team dinners, students are having to find alternative ways to connect, both with their team and the groups they work with.

“We used to have dinners and parties after games. Now we can’t. We used to have bonding in the spring after tryouts. Now we can’t. It just feels like our team dynamics are different without these sall events,” Hasenjager said.

However, district administration has recently announced changes that offer an alternative to full stands. Seniors are allowed at all home games, and 100 visitors are allowed at away games. 

“The games will seem to be a little more normal, especially for us seniors… It will be a lot of fun to see my friends in the stands and having the band playing will be a lot of fun as well,” Hasenjager said.

Despite the hardships that come with the new COVID-19 guidelines,  seniors are determined to continue their season and finish off their last year strong. While a typical senior season may not be possible this year, students are attempting to make a memorable year, nevertheless.

“It’s my last year… I don’t want to put it to waste. My grades still matter and this year still matters and being a cheerleader still matters to me so I can’t just stop doing everything,” Hasenjager said. 

While Millard is slowly opening up, many students are left thinking about people in other districts that are unable to participate at all in fall activities. Most notably, Omaha Public Schools remains completely remote without sports.

“You have to think positively… if you’re only thinking about what you’re going to miss, of course you’ll be disappointed,” Wilczewski said. “But if you focus on how we get to play eight games, when other districts get none, it’s such a good thing.”

Consistently, MN students are focusing on optimism and the chance to have one last season as a team, no matter how it looks.

“We didn’t even think that we would have a season for a while. But now that we can have something, we are trying to make this our best year. Going for one last ride with people I’ve known for four or seven years means a lot,” Wilczewski said.

Looking forward, it is uncertain what this year will bring. But looking up into the stands, MN’s students know that a friendly face in the small crowd can still mean a lot.

“Looking up seeing the limited amount of people, I feel a range of emotions like sadness, and loss, but I also feel proud, joyful, grateful, and so, so thankful for my band family and all they have persevered through this year with positivity,” Revord said.

In times of loss, there is room for growth. Though the stands may be empty for now, the spirit never will be. Because ultimately, there is more than one way to be a proud Mustang.

“Stay safe,” Wilczewski said. “And go Mustangs”.