By Daniel Multz
Boston University News Service
Back in October, students and fans filled Northeastern University’s Matthews Arena for the university’s men’s and women’s ice hockey season openers for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down spring and winter sports a year ago.
Not only did over 4,000 fans attend the men’s game against Bentley University, but so too did the Northeastern Pep Band for their first live performance since March 2020.
“Over the pandemic you kind of forgot what we were doing it for,” said Northeastern Pep Band vice president Jackie Turner. “And we got there, and we had the teams come up to some of our band members afterwards and be like ‘oh my god, I loved having you there and forgot how great it was having the live band there,’ and it made it all worth it,” she added.
Northeastern’s Athletic Department provided a detailed attendance policy for indoor venues for fall 2021, requiring masks at all times, along with proof of vaccination with an ID for verification or a recent negative COVID-19 test.
“I think that Northeastern, throughout the pandemic, [has] done a pretty good job keeping everyone safe, and these rules are just one way to do it,” Turner said. “It makes me personally feel safer, and it makes a lot of the band feel safer. We have a lot of the band who would not have come back if we didn’t have these protocols.”
Now halfway through the season, vaccination has been the hallmark of pandemic response in the months since emergency use authorization was granted to the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
“The vaccine is doing an amazing job, greater than 90%, at preventing severe disease, but it’s also doing a fair job at preventing getting infected in the first place,” said Dr. Gita Lisker, attending physician for pulmonary and critical care at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. “So the best method of protection is ensuring that the vaccine cards are presented at indoor venues.”
Along with advocating for proof of vaccination, Lisker also said that the ability to update or change protocols was an equally important step in getting fans back into arenas.
“Everything with COVID needs to be fluid because there’s constant changing and we’re constantly learning,” Lisker said. “I think anything that is in a large, indoor venue should have a vaccine mandate.”
One week after Northeastern welcomed fans back for its ice hockey games, Boston University did the same on Oct. 9 as their men’s hockey team faced the University of Connecticut. Two weeks later, during the school’s Family and Friends Weekend, the arena hosted over 5,000 fans as the Terriers won an 8-6 slugfest against the Merrimack College Warriors.
“[Last Saturday] was awesome. It was a more busy arena than we had seen in a while,” said BU Athletics Associate Senior Director of Athletics and Senior Woman Administrator Kristie Bowers. “Everyone was excited to see college hockey again, and I think our student-athletes have really appreciated the fans’ support.”
BU Athletics’ policy nearly mirrors Northeastern’s, lacking only in ID verification, but constant communication and the community doing its part has allowed the season to start off without a hitch.
“I’m comfortable with where we are. I think that we tend to operate in close consultation with professionals on campus,” Bowers said. “I appreciate all of the flexibility that everyone has provided us to say ‘hey listen, we just want to come to see the team play and we will figure it out,’” she added.
BU’s pep band also got the chance to return to live performances for the first time in over a year, welcoming in new band members, and welcoming back returning members.
“Everyone was really excited about it. We had people who joined the band last year and we just spent that whole year hyping up ‘real’ pep band,” said BU Bands Manager and tuba-section leader Jimmy Maher. “So it was really good to see everybody who hadn’t done it before finally get a chance to play at a hockey game.”
After having to spend the entirety of the 2020-2021 academic year coping with virtual classes, masking, and lack of in-person events of any kind, the mental health of students became another reason behind trying to get students back at games.
“I really think that the mental health of the young adults and the teens was very much in danger with the seclusion of [the pandemic]. I think that these are people that have been vaccinated, so they have done their deed [and] they have done their good for society as a whole,” Lisker said. “Now they are really at zero risk even if they do contract COVID, and all of the adults around them have now had their risks minimized to less than that of the flu.”
“For us in college athletics, there was a piece of the puzzle that was absolutely missing last year where we didn’t get to do what we love in front of others live,” Bowers said. “That just kind of reinforces what we do and continues to allow us to feed off that energy when we’re playing sports.”