It was Monday, March 9, and I was sitting in Dr. Ehrhardt’s office. The baseball and softball teams had just returned from their annual spring training in Orlando when I heard the news:
“We are likely going to have to quarantine the baseball and softball coaches and players for two weeks because you traveled into a hot zone.”
I sat, waiting for the punchline. It never came.
Within the week, the quarantine expanded, ultimately extending to all teams. Soon after, the CA community, the state, and the entire country shifted to stay-at-home mode. Virtual instruction and social distancing became the new norm. As days turned to weeks, hopes for a quick resolution to the pandemic–and of salvaging some semblance of a spring athletics season– faded.
Tom Keifer of Cinderella (‘80’s headbangers rejoice) wrote his power ballad “Don’t Know What You Got (Til It’s Gone).” While he certainly meant it in a different context, it is a sentiment that nonetheless captured what we were collectively feeling.
Simple, everyday pleasures—those that we typically take for granted–were suddenly out of reach. The freedom to go to restaurants, to hang out with friends mask-free, to play a simple neighborhood game of pickup basketball: gone. In their place? A new sport of hunting for paper products at Harris Teeter.
The loss hurt. Quickly, we began to miss the social and emotional connections afforded through interactions. In my world, those bonds are forged by playing sports. And I know that I am not the only one that has spent these last several months itching to get CA athletics back underway.
With the worldwide scientific community focused on COVID-19, we’re beginning to learn more about this virus–about how it spreads and how to identify it by its multitude of symptoms (fever, persistent cough, shortness of breath, sore through, even the inexplicable loss of taste or sense of smell, just to name a few).
Armed with this knowledge, we’ve found ways to mitigate our risk, to make adjustments to our lifestyles to keep us safer. We maintain social distance, wear masks, and stay attuned to our health, all sharing in a collective effort to keep our community healthy.
And dare I say it? As a result, we’re starting to regain something that feels like (approximates?) normalcy. Okay, okay, perhaps it is a “new normal,” but we’re taking steps in the right direction.
Thankfully, those steps have also led us on a pathway back to athletics.
While nothing can be deemed 100% safe right now, the fall athletics season has several factors in its favor that enabled our athletics association—the NCISAA—to green light seasonal practices. Fall athletics are mostly outside, where research tells us the risk of COVID transmission is far lower. We can focus on ways to minimize contact through socially-distant drills that focus on skill-building and emphasize strength and conditioning.
As a community, we’ve talked a lot about resiliency. We teach our students to lean into challenges to discern the learning opportunities, to reframe them in positive ways that allow us to grow. Athletics during the pandemic is no different. Our fall season may be less than ideal, but there are positives here to recognize.
In some ways, philosophically, this pandemic is forcing us back to important basics. With the pressure of winning and a drive for championships temporarily on hold, we’re returning to the purest form of sport: of simply training and playing for the love of the game, for a desire to improve oneself, for fun and camaraderie, and for physical and mental health (and a much-needed break from the virtual world).
It’s the right approach—and one that is filling a crucial need for our students.
I recently touched base with sophomore Amy Snively, after our first off-season softball workout. Her report? “It felt so good to get back out here. Just to be around other people is so nice; it was great!”
A few weeks later, during 8th-grade orientation, I asked students why they played sports. The number one answer, “it’s fun!” was followed by “I get to be with my friends,” “it’s good for me because I get to exercise,” “I like to compete,” and “it teaches me sportsmanship and how to be a leader.”
Our coaches recognize and understand the vital role they will play in affording these essential opportunities. As we head into the fall season, the time has come to hit the reset button and reflect upon those values that are fundamentally important to players and to focus on rebuilding the mental, social, and physical wellbeing of our student-athletes.
Rest assured, when Chargers do get the green light to take to the competitive field, they’ll be in good mental and physical shape to do it. And, there is (tentative) good news there as well (*knocking wood*).
Through protocols outlined by the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) in coordination with medical professionals, there is growing hope that we can eventually “return to play” while minimizing the spread of COVID. While the situation is fluid—changing quite literally by the day—it currently looks as though we may soon be able to kick-off the competitive season for low contact sports. We will launch medium-risk (higher contact) competitions once Governor Cooper moves us into Phase 3 or we receive updated guidance from NCDHSS.
As with all things right now, when we do return to competitive play, it will look a bit different. In addition to the now-standard protocols—daily temperature and symptom checks, consistent disinfection practices, wearing masks unless engaged in physical activity, and maintaining social distance—you will likely see some additional protocols and precautions that are the results of lessons learned from other groups and clubs this summer. Students will also have the ability to opt-out of competitive play if they are uncomfortable with that level of contact, while still participating in practices and other team-building exercises.
In the meantime, as we wait to see what the fall season will hold, we’re happy to welcome our athletes back to CA–to witness their joy, to celebrate their hard work, to share in the fun, and to connect with each other. Personally, it’s been a privilege to be back patrolling the fields and watching and working with students. After a long, quiet summer, the campus feels alive again.