Tracy Blake stood courtside, a face mask tucked under her chin, cheering on her 12-year-old daughter, Ciana, during a recent tournament at Spooky Nook Sports.
The Nov. 21 fifth through eighth grade basketball tournament - which attracted 53 teams from across the state and as far away as Maryland and New York - was a first for Ciana's travel team, K-Low Elite of Philadelphia.
“The game has to go on, in my opinion,” Blake said.
And go on it did.
Her daughter’s tournament was one of about a dozen events held that day.
At 700,000 square feet in Manheim Borough, the Nook is billed as the largest indoor sports complex in North America. With regulation courts and fields for more than a dozen sports — including field hockey, softball, soccer, basketball and wrestling, among others — the facility is a destination for clubs and tournaments.
LNP | LancasterOnline readers have expressed concern that the Nook could be attracting more than competitors. With hundreds of athletes and their families attending dozens of events, the question is this: Should large venues like the Nook cause the community to be concerned?
Over several days last week, LNP | LancasterOnline reached out via email, phone and Facebook to several Nook representatives including owner Sam Beiler.
No one responded to the inquiries.
Spooky Nook marketing manager Mackenzie Bender in March, however, told LNP|LancasterOnline that the company “will continue to educate our guests and employees on everyday health practices.”
‘To protect public health’
On Nov. 21, about 50 young athletes and spectators gathered around the basketball court where Ciana’s team lost 51-20 to the Philly Fire. This section of the Nook also hosted games on four other basketball courts simultaneously.
While the bleachers had been removed to encourage social distancing, only a handful of these young athletes and their coaches wore masks on the court.
Because of the alarming increase in cases, which precede deaths by about two weeks, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine issued an order before Nov. 21 heading into the Thanksgiving holiday requiring face masks inside — even in private residences — when around individuals not in your household.
At the Nook on Nov. 21, referees said they were instructed that athletes are required to wear masks during play, but that they were not to “police” the new order.
Also in effect is Levine’s July 15 order, which caps indoor gatherings for large venues at 1,500.
It’s unclear whether the Nook is abiding by this.
Although Jim Launer, the company’s chief operations officer, told LNP | LancasterOnline in June that he wasn’t sure whether the Nook would hold “a big tournament again the rest of 2020,” it also isn’t clear what Launer considers a large event.
Complaints to the state Health Department are confidential unless “action is taken to protect public health,” Press Secretary April Hutcheson said in an email.
For Blake, whose daughter has hope of playing college ball, school closures in Philadelphia mean that travel teams are the only outlet for athletes to stay sharp.
“It’s not something that’s going to go away,” Blake said of the pandemic. “We have to learn to live with it and be careful.”