With fire code, tardy fans can be left in the cold at big-time Colorado Springs basketball games

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Fans of Sierra and Sand Creek recently found out the hard way that simply showing up for a game doesn't necessarily translate into admission.

Actually, that's the fire code doing its job.

"Anytime you can fill the gym, it's great for the kids, schools and community," said Sierra athletic director Brian Petzold, referring to the Dec. 16, 2016, boys' basketball game at Sierra that filled the gym to the point of school officials having to turn away prospective attendees. "Everyone thinks we're the bad guys, but we have to stay within what the Colorado Springs Fire Department wants us to do."

Look around just any structure where people gather - meeting room, restaurant or gymnasium, just to name a few - and displayed somewhere is a small notice of the maximum occupancy limit.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sand Creek's gym will be the hottest venue in town when the Scorpions (14-1) meet Falcon School District rival Vista Ridge (11-4) in the first of two encounters in the 4A/5A Pikes Peak Athletic Conference schedule.

And with the star power of seniors D'shawn Schwartz of Sand Creek and Hunter Maldonado of Vista Ridge, the game is sure to pique the interest of far more than just those associated with the two schools.

So if you're thinking of attending, here's a bit of advice. Get there early. The first 1,900 will witness the game firsthand. The rest will have to depend on friends and media to see who wins this battle.

"It shocked a lot of folks at Sierra when they stopped letting people in, and we're going to be doing the same thing," Sand Creek athletic director Jared Felice said. "We don't want to turn away anyone, and we have a good-sized gym, but we have to abide by the fire code and do what the district and security wants us to do. It's first-come, first-served, and we've notified our community that attendance will be limited."

Simply put, the fire code is in place for obvious reasons.

"It's for life safety," said Cpt. Steve Wilch, a spokesman for the Colorado Springs Fire Department. "All those things are for safety for the public and enjoyment of the event. When a structure goes up, there's a purpose for the building. If it's a gym, it's designed around building and fire code requirements. That will detail where the exits are, and how many exits you need based on how many people per square foot are going to be in that space. From there, the codes are enforced by the individual schools."

Sand Creek isn't the only venue that will be particularly keen in its crowd control this week. Sierra hosts Mesa Ridge on Tuesday and longtime rival Widefield on Thursday, and both 4A Colorado Springs Metro League games have been well attended in the past.

On Feb. 17, the scene will shift north when Sand Creek travels to Vista Ridge on the final night of the regular season. By then, first-year Scorpions coach Rob Hawkins will have experienced his first D49 rivalry game in the hot seat.

Previously, he was the assistant coach at Palmer and Mitchell, and vividly recalls the rivalry games with Doherty and Wasson, respectively.

"There was nothing bigger than Palmer-Doherty, especially when Reggie (Jackson) was playing at Palmer," Hawkins said. "I remember they turned people away at that game at Mitchell-Wasson, too. I'm glad we've had a chance to play in front of that kind of crowd at Sierra. The guys responded well, and Sierra responded well. It was a good game, and I'm expecting the same thing when our guys play Vista Ridge."