High school football is back in the mountains. On Friday, Pisgah High School took on Tuscola High School in Haywood County's biggest rivalry game.
In the age of COVID-19, though, the game looked very different. For starters, it was being played in February instead of the fall. Perhaps the most notable change was the stands, which were not nearly as full as they'd normally be.
Up until Wednesday, Feb. 24, the parents of many of the players weren't sure if they'd even be able to get tickets. That's because Gov. Roy Cooper's previous executive order placed a 100-person cap on outdoor sporting events. The Pisgah-Tuscola game usually draws a crowd of 10,000 to 15,000 people, according to school officials.
Because the game is at Pisgah Memorial Stadium, the parents of Pisgah players would have been able to get two tickets to the game, even under that 100-person cap. Tuscola players' parents, though, weren't so sure.
"It was a nightmare to think we wouldn't be here to at least be a part of that," said Raife Davis, whose son, Locke, is a senior tight end for Tuscola. "Football athletes can be injured. Parents want to be here in case they get injured."
A pleasant surprise came for Davis and many other parents Wednesday, when Cooper announced he'd be lifting that 100-person cap. The order went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday -- just in time for kickoff in Canton. The move came after many parents and several state legislators pushed for easing capacity restrictions at high school football games.
"I'm thankful to the thousands and thousands of parents across the state that banded together and told the governor we weren't going to not be allowed to see our children play ball," Davis said.
The move wasn't just a relief for many Tuscola parents, but also for Pisgah parents.
"I'm just glad that we have got to be here tonight and that the governor opened it up so that other parents could come and opposing team's parents could come, too," fellow parent Karen Henson said.
Henson's son, Neyland Walker, is a senior lineman for the home team. She said removing the 100-person cap meant more people could cheer her son and his team on.
"I think they feed off of the noise coming off the audience, and Pisgah fans really cheer on our boys," she said.
She wished even more fans could fill the stands, but Cooper's latest order still imposes a 30% capacity restriction. The president of the Pisgah Boosters Club said the stadium is able to seat about 2,100 people under that new rule.
But even though the stands were still far from full, many parents were determined to make it sound like it was.
"We're very thankful to be here, and, again, I'm thankful for all the families and parents that really stood up," Davis said.