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Inside the COVID mitigation plans for Hoophall Classic

By Irene Rotondo

The highly-anticipated 2022 Spalding Hoophall Classic presented by Eastbay and hosted at Springfield College, has returned after the 2021 event was cancelled due to COVID. 

Though the organizations are thrilled to welcome back their supportive fans, teams, media outlets, and staff members, the Hall of Fame and the College have analyzed the pandemic’s fluid situation and created a COVID mitigation plan, ensuring a safe – yet traditional – Hoophall Classic 2022.

Vice President for Basketball Operations at the Hall of Fame, Greg Procino, stated that the Hall has had a “can-do” mentality since the beginning of the pandemic.

“We’ve operated everything from bubbles, to controlled environments, to large entertainment events in large arenas,” said Procino.

“No one is an expert in this space, but we are leaning on some of our expertise from some of these other events that we’ve accomplished successfully to devise this mitigation plan.”

Though there are no COVID vaccine or testing requirements for fans attending the event, the Hall of Fame and Springfield College are following Massachusetts state guidelines and the City of Springfield’s guidelines regarding COVID protocols, including masking and capacity limits.

Masks will be required at all times indoors, except when eating or drinking. To make certain that individuals inside Blake Arena will be masked at all times, neither food nor beverages will be permitted in Blake and will only be available for purchase and consumption at certain concession stands outside of the arena.

The venue capacity will be lowered 25% for each day of Hoophall. There will also be a no re-entry policy for 2022, and there will not be shuttles available for fans from exterior parking lots unless requested for emergency or as a specific request for accommodation.

Ticket holders have been encouraged to use paperless transaction when purchasing Hoophall Classic tickets, and staff working in the box office will have Plexiglass barriers.

President of Springfield College, Mary-Beth Cooper, stated she is confident in the Hall of Fame’s knowledge in hosting large-scale events during the pandemic, and that she has worked closely with the organization to coordinate mitigation efforts with those the College currently holds.

“We worked closely with Greg Procino and John Doleva, CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame, to design the safest way to hold this signature event for Springfield College and our guests,” said Cooper.  

“The Hall of Fame has held a number of events in the past few months and has experience managing an environment in these difficult times. I am confident that our team, consisting of Hall of Fame staff, Springfield College faculty, students and staff, will produce an outstanding platform for the nation’s best high school basketball players.”

Finally, to keep with social distancing protocols, the Hall of Fame and the College made the decision to block off the first row of bleacher seating on both sides of the floor to allow for space between the scorer’s table and teams, along with the announcers and media members on the other side of the floor. Fan seating will begin in the second row of the bleachers.

Additionally, rows two and three directly behind the team benches will be blocked for friends and family of each team for each game, with wristbands required for seating access.

The Hall of Fame and the College do recognize that despite their efforts, there is still an assumption of risk that those attending the event are choosing to take. This “assumption of risk” has been stated on the back of the event credentials and posted on the Hoophall Classic website.

“We want to make sure that this event operates in the most normal way possible, in the safest conditions possible, knowing that this is not going to be perfect and nothing is right now,” Procino said.

All staff hired to work are required to be fully vaccinated, save for religious or medical exemptions. To avoid “locker room hallway congestion,” all post-game media has been given a single designated location.

If a working staff member or participating team member begins to show symptoms of COVID, PCR testing with a 12-14 hour return time for that individual will be available via BioReference, a lab partner the NBA and NFL often utilize. Any person with symptoms will not be allowed in the venue until results are received.

Participating teams are to arrive game ready to ensure they are only in the Arena during designated practice and game times. They will not be permitted to attend scheduled games other than their own, and there will be no team overflow seating sections. Locker rooms and team benches will also be disinfected between team usage by a cleaning crew.

With the extensive, yet subtle, COVID mitigation plans in place, the Hall of Fame and the College expect an event filled with high energy and excitement like those celebrated in the past, but do recognize that the situation is fluid.

Procino stated, “Some of this protocol and plan we’re going to play out our policies have the ability to be intentionally fluid, sometimes that hasn’t been done in previous versions of it. Something that happens Thursday might not look the same by Saturday.

“There’s enough experience inside our two groups, based on 20 years of hosting this event, that we’ll figure it out. And I think that’s what people are looking for, for people like us to figure it out and show people that this can be done,” he said.

Photo Courtesy The Springfield Student

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