Student and athlete thoughts on spring sports

COVID-19 has put a complete damper on allowing college athletes to play the sports that they have committed to playing. The Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) is convinced that if student athletes follow their specific guidelines and continue to be aware of the virus moving forward, it could benefit their seasons. At the moment, ODAC plans to let fall sports play in the first half of the spring semester and for spring sports play in the second half. Seasons have been lowered to around 10 games max for each sport team. 

The ODAC Board of Directors has spent a significant amount of time figuring out a safe way for student athletes to compete in their various sports. In an article titled “ODAC Announces Plan for Return to Competition for Spring 2021” on the ODAC website, Commissioner Brad Bankston voices that, “The conference has worked diligently to plan for all our student-athletes to continue their collegiate athletic experience in the spring.” 

This article also mentions that, “The ODAC Presidents’ Council committed that the conference will follow all established NCAA testing recommendations.” Athletes will receive extensive testing in order to make sure they are healthy and able to play their sport and not spreading COVID-19 or receiving COVID-19 from other players. 

Bea Niyibizi, a junior at Guilford College who plays tennis, spoke about the various phases sports teams had to endure just to practice: “basically we had to go through phases to practice. Phase one was that everyone on the sports team had to get tested and fill out specific forms online, including your health insurance. Once that was all done you could move on to phase two: you had to do four or five conditioning practices with your mask on before being able to hold regular practices.” 

Women’s Head Basketball Coach and Assistant Athletic Director at Guilford College Stephanie Flamini talked about how the protocols from NCAA and ODAC have brought the team even closer together. 

“I think that all of this will bring our team together more than a ‘normal year,’” Flamini said. 

Cam Roberts, a senior at Guilford College who plays lacrosse, spoke about how he feels moving into this atypical sports season: “I’m very excited to be able to play a sport while COVID-19 is going on. It does put more stress on me because we have to be very cautious to protect ourselves and the people around us while we play the sport we love.” 

COVID-19 protocols have made it extremely challenging to meet new people and make new friends, so having this ability to play a sport not only allows students to get exercise, it creates another community for them. Guilford athletes do think it has been challenging to meet their new teammates during this weird time. 

“Me and my roommates were just talking about how this year is so different because it’s a lot harder to be able to hang out with our teammates and get to know each other,” Roberts said. 

“For a lot of people, structure is important. The ability to get fresh air and going back to scheduled practices gives you that structure,” Niyibizi said. “I would say that it has been okay for us because tennis is already a socially distanced sport anyway.” 

The ability to have a small team is relevant in this case as well because Niyibizi’s team is about 10 people. Several other sports have had to practice in small groups, but tennis has a bit more leeway with it being a smaller team. 

There have been many challenges throughout previous sports seasons, but nothing quite like this year.

“It is somewhat comical that I would get worried about the flu going through the team in previous years and now I wish the flu was my worry,” Flamini said. 

Worries that were on students’ and coaches’ minds are suddenly put into perspective as being issues that aren’t nearly as severe as this virus. 

This season is fast approaching, with fall sports kicking off right away when students return to school in about a month. Athletes seem to be super excited and feel lucky that they are being given this opportunity since the ability to play has been very much up in the air for the majority of the summer and fall.