ROXBURY, NJ – (Updated 3:36 p.m.) Some Roxbury High School ice hockey player parents don’t understand the logic behind Gov. Phil Murphy’s refusal to allow them to watch their kids' games.

Murphy's COVID-19 executive order essentially allows only players and coaches inside ice rinks for high school hockey games. The parents contend the rinks are spacious enough to allow for safe distancing in the stands by a limited number of hockey fans.

“There is currently no attendance allowed at hockey games being played at Mennen Arena in Morristown,” said parent Mike DiDomenico on behalf of the Roxbury High School Ice Hockey Booster Association. “The rink has an occupancy of 2,500 people, and we are trying to get approval from the governor’s office to allow less than 5 percent of this capacity. All we want is to allow parents (many who have senior players) see their kids play.”

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DiDomenico, whose son, Joe, is a junior on the hockey team, said the Roxbury parents, and “hundreds from neighboring towns,” have peppered Murphy’s office with emails. So far, all they got back is a canned “auto reply,” that, essentially thanks them for reaching out, he said.

“As Governor, I welcome input from those throughout the Garden State and beyond who are eager to share with me their thoughts, concerns, questions and ideas,” says the reply received by the parents. “My staff and I will endeavor to be as responsive as possible to the many people using this electronic means of communication, as well as to those who, through letters and phone calls, contact my office. Again, I appreciate your taking the time to write to me.”

Murphy's Deputy Press Secretary and Communications Strategist Alexandra Altman insisted the governor's actions are based on science.

"Governor Murphy has repeatedly emphasized the importance allowing science, data and facts to guide decision-making and key strategies during the pandemic," she said in an email. "Indoor environments continue to pose challenges in regard to congregating and enforcing social distancing. The Administration continues to review all relevant science and data and when appropriate, will responsibly raise indoor gathering limits, which is currently set at 10 people, with limited exceptions."

State Sen. Anthony Bucco, who represents Roxbury, said he agrees with the parents. He also said he's pressed Murphy to change the rule, but has not been successful.

"I think that the positioning of the governor's office doesn't make a lot of sense,' Bucco said. "These are big arenas where you could easily limit the number of spectators to parents and, maybe, close relatives. You could accept advance registration for tickets like they did during football, and clearly space people out with CDC guidelines."

Plenty of Room

DiDomenico said he and the other parents understand, and agree with the need for safe behavior.

“We can easily social-distance in that arena, in fact we could be 25 feet apart,” said DiDomenico. “There are also at least 30-foot ceilings in that facility, further helping the safety of attending.”

Not being able to watch the games is bad; the lack of response by the governor’s office, other than the auto-response, is adding to the hockey parents’ frustration, according to DiDomenico.

“Weeks have gone by and that is the only reply any of us get,” he said. “We are very frustrated that we can't even get a response from the governor. We have contacted all our neighboring towns’ hockey programs and they all share our frustration.”

As DiDomenico mentioned, it's not just Roxbury High School parents who are upset. Dino Guadagnino, a Roxbury resident whose son is a senior at Morris Catholic High School is one of the others.

"It is terrible that my wife and I cannot see his senior season, just like many other parents of senior players," he said. "Why can I go to a restaurant, not wear a mask; eat, cough, sneeze and that’s okay, but I can’t stand six to 10 feet away from another parent while we both wear masks watching our children play hockey?"

Guadagnino said it appears to him that "the governor realizes the season ends in March and is letting the clock run out.""

The Gaels won their first game of the season on Jan. 15. They are scheduled to play again Friday (Jan. 22) against Sparta at Skylands Ice World where, like Mennen Arena, spectators are not permitted.

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