Fall sports adjust to new norm amidst pandemic
When coaches and athletes look back at the seasons they’ve participated in, 2020 may be missing some fun team bus rides, snacks, after-game dinners, and hugs of celebration. But when they look back at the 2020 school year as a whole, many will remember the social (distanced) interactions their sport allowed them to have.
Due to COVID-19, many events have been postponed or cancelled; however, some fall sports have still been able to run. Athletes have had to adjust to new safety protocols, in addition to putting in the work necessary for a successful season. Boys’ and girls’ golf, girls’ tennis, boys’ and girls’ cross country, and girls’ swimming and diving were able to start their season in the beginning of August.
Baseball and cheerleading have started “contact days”. Football and boys soccer currently do not have “contact days,” and their season has been postponed to the spring.
Each sport has taken precautionary measures to ensure the health and safety of students and coaches. Some teams have found ways to creatively adapt their own sport to continue practicing safely during the pandemic.
For example, girls’ golf coach Megan Hebert said, “At the very beginning of the season, they said you have to wear your mask all the time, except for when you’re actually hitting the ball, but in golf, I think anyway, the workout is when you are walking between shots. Like cross country runners didn’t have to wear it when they were running, but we had to wear it except when we were hitting the ball.” However, after a couple of weeks, regulations were adjusted so that masks only had to be worn when golfers arrive at the course and when they are leaving on the bus, as it is naturally easy to social distance on a golf course.
Hebert also said the team is using a new app for scoring instead of score cards to avoid physically exchanging them.
Similarly, tennis players have had to adapt to a new health guideline: using a specific tennis ball with their own name on it.
Girls’ tennis player Simren Mahajan, ‘21, said, “Initially, this process was a hassle since tennis balls are continuously hit and rolled around. Rather than instinctively catching a flying ball, we now have to be cognizant of whose ball it is. However, many players have used labeling as an opportunity to draw intricate fonts and cool symbols.” In addition to making it easier to find their own tennis balls, some players said personalizing their tennis balls helped them think more positively about the changes they’ve had to adapt to.
This unprecedented situation has also led athletes to make sacrifices and adjustments to continue their passions.
Girls’ swimming coach Justin Bickus said, “We are only able to practice with three athletes per lane. This has forced our teams who normally practice until 6pm each night into two different practice times, 3:30-5:30 and 5:30-7:30. So, girls are at school much later at night in addition to sometimes having morning practice as well.” Similarly, Cross country coach Kalli Dalton said that the girls’ cross country team has had to split by running in small groups instead of big team runs.
Despite these adjustments, players and coaches have said they are still glad to have a season. Given that the rest of their day is spent at home on Zoom, practicing and competing has been something they look forward to.
Swimmer Nina Matusiak, ‘21, said, “The swim season this year is a nice part of normalcy in my day in contrast with e-learning.”
Being able to show team comaraderie in a traditional way, such as giving a high five, a pat on the back, or being in close quarters has had to completely change. But the teams have been able to adapt and stay positive.
Girls’ tennis player Sruthi Sundar, ‘23, said, “A change this year has also been with showing sportsmanship before and after a match. Usually, you shake hands with your opponent to greet them before a match and to acknowledge their good performance afterwards. This year, we simply tap our rackets together after a match while verbally praising our opponent’s performance.”
Girls’ tennis coach Matthew Marks said another way the team worked on bringing back team camaraderie is by introducing intersquad matches and a Big Sister, Little Sister program to enhance communication between the seniors and freshmen on the team.
It has been even more important this year to the swim team to be supportive of each other, as spectators are no longer allowed to attend meets. Swimmers have managed to stay close without physically being near each other by cheering during meets and talking from a distance while in the water. “With all the new precautions set in place, a meet has a more relaxed environment,” Matusiak said.
Many senior traditions that athletes look forward to, such as senior night, also look different this year. Girls’ golf player Sarah Carr, ‘22, said, “The seniors were given signs, posters, and gifts from their teammates to celebrate their final year on the team.”
McFadden also points to senior night as the highlight of the season, despite it being a shorter celebration held in the golf course instead of the usual dinner with the team and parents in the atrium at Conant or at the club house at Fox Run. Other teams have also had to alter the traditional senior night to a social-distanced night with many posters and gifts for the seniors.
Girls’ tennis player Riya Jain, ‘22, said, “At the end of the day, I’m just really glad that we were able to safely keep the season on, as compared to pushing it off like many other sports.”