Sports teams have accommodated for COVID-19 through socially distanced practices, local games
The cancellation of this fall’s Southwest Preparatory Conference and added safety measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 have forced sports teams to adapt to challenging circumstances.
The conference’s decision recognized that each school was undergoing an unusual situation and that the operations of each respective school would vary. In addition, the decision was made during a time of constantly changing local conditions and opinions on how to handle safety measures in regards to athletic competition. The verdict to cancel this athletic season was understood and supported by many.
“I wish that I could go, and since this is a vital year for me, it was important, but I want to look at the bright side,” varsity crew member Gabe Kozielec said. “I do believe that the decision to cancel the regattas was a smart one because there are a lot of people that group together, and it is hard to keep track of everyone.”
Other athletes, however, are dealing with the frustration of having SPC canceled. According to a Sept. 26 poll of 249 students, 84 percent of all students who play a sport are still practicing and have plans to compete locally. Many students have voiced their opinion that SPC being canceled is a pointless attempt to slow the spread of the virus if most sports teams are carrying on as usual.
“Not just me, but almost the whole football team thinks it’s unreasonable,” junior varsity football player Ronny Sires said. “Football to us isn’t just a sport that we play. It’s a lifestyle that creates a family. It’s a time to forget about everything and have fun. Taking away SPC is like taking a baby’s pacifier. To the seniors mainly, they miss the most fun time of high school because of COVID-19.”
The precautions being taken have dramatically changed the way athletes approach practicing and maintaining their athletic ability. The effort to slow the spread requires athletes to be flexible in the way that they train to get as close to standard routine as possible.
“Many of us are craving a sense of normalcy in the current COVID-19 world and no one more so than our coaches and student-athletes,” Director of Athletics Dan Gill said. “These unprecedented circumstances require a diligent, yet analytical approach to planning for the safe return of interscholastic competition, which undoubtedly is an essential part of our fabric in the ESD community.”
Each sport had to work on their toes to develop unique methods of practice to maintain their skills.
“We are wearing masks, doing more spread out exercises, working in single-person boats, sanitizing oars and exercising alone,” Kozielec said. “I work out using the guide that was provided to us from the weight coach and our crew coach. I have also been a part of a club team in order to get more practice on the water.”
A huge addition to the sport team curriculum this year was an improved Strength and Conditioning program. In order to keep athletes in shape, some coaches require mandatory social distanced training with the athletic trainers.
“The football team is adapting perfectly fine [by] still practicing as a team and working as hard as we possibly can to prepare and make sure we are ready for [our first game],” Sires said. “Obviously, we are more cautious and make sure we attend conditioning. To some people it is advantageous because this is the time to improve athletically and academically, which I think is ideal.”
Although teams have found ways to compensate for the challenges posed on playing sports, coaches and players have had difficulty replacing the community aspect of athletics.
“As one of the [field hockey] senior captains, I was especially sad because I had been looking forward to being a leader and being able to create a good team dynamic between grades,” senior Cleo Neuhoff said.”Because field hockey is in the fall, a ton of freshmen join as a way to get to know new people. Our goal is that even if we can’t have games we will still be able to get to know everyone, especially the underclassmen, and hopefully be good examples for them.”
Although Neuhoff has goals to increase bonding, some parts of the fall season that athletes are missing out on are irreplaceable. Many of the traditions that sports teams participate in are unable to occur this year due to safety issues.
“We had already been planning for this year[‘s retreat] and we had so many great ideas that would have gotten the team super close, so I’m really disappointed we won’t be able to do that,” Neuhoff said. “Overall I’m just really sad that we might miss out on the day to day practices and the fun conversations, locker room dance parties and especially leading the powers cheer before counter games.”
Although nothing is set in stone, Gill hopes that sports seasons later in the year will resume as planned. The School knows that the more the community limits activities outside activities, the better the chance of normalcy returning.
“I am encouraged by the success we have experienced with our return to on-campus strength/conditioning along with the staggered reopening of school,” Gill said. “Both are pivotal to our ability to consider the resumption of a modified fall sports season. The camaraderie experienced both on and off the field/courts is an essential part of the student life environment.”