The athletic season at UE and other universities across the nation was cancelled when COVID-19 began its spread across the U.S. last spring, and at many universities, the pause on sports continued through the fall. Now, in the spring one year later, athletics have resumed nationwide, but the presence of mandated COVID-19 guidelines means that sports are still far from normal.
New regulations have altered the atmosphere of many sporting events and forced athletes and staff to adjust. Andrew Schuler, junior thrower on the UE track & field team, stated that the team is no longer able to utilize local high school track facilities due to COVID-19 restrictions. Now, the team must travel to Newburgh for a proper facility. Schuler claimed this obstacle has discouraged members of the team.
Along with facility alterations, competitions have been slightly modified and now feel different for many athletes. Schuler claimed that standard distancing guidelines during meets and on the bus make people talk less and makes the atmosphere at competitions “isolated and gloomy”.
Izzy Vetter, junior on the UE softball team, said all players are required to wear masks in the dugouts. “Masks make it hard to cheer. Cheering is a huge part to the game and with the mask, they are muffled, making it less effective,” Vetter said. Although distancing and masks certainly aren’t unique to athletics, they present a stark contrast to the typical socially and physically close world of sports.
Because all sports are different, all are affected differently by the new regulations. Henry Kiel, sophomore on the UE men’s golf team, said the only substantial difference with golf tournaments is that sometimes players are paired with their own teammates instead of players from other schools.
“I enjoyed it… with everyone playing together, our coach was able to watch everyone at the same time and help whenever needed, which helped us play better as a team,” Kiel said. Unfortunately, that is not a relatable feeling for many other athletes at the school.
The regulations have created challenges for most athletes, and the competitive rust that athletes accumulate from a year off might be the hardest of these challenges to overcome. “My form is not as good as it used to be… I am a little weaker,” Schuler said.
Most sports are not like riding a bike. If you take a break, it doesn’t always come back instantly. Athletes have been able to practice on their own or with their teammates, but there is no substitute for true competition.
“[The year off] definitely affects competition… the atmosphere of the game and competition against others rather than my teammates is something we haven’t had in a long time,” Vetter said.
As an athlete, when you are told you aren’t going to be able to compete until things get back to normal, and normal isn’t in the foreseeable future, it is easy to lose your competitive edge.
“It is hard to get back into the competitive mindset,” Schuler said. Competitiveness isn’t a switch that can be easily flipped on and off. Now that sports are back, athletes may be slow to seeing the results they once expected of themselves.
COVID-19 complications apply to the athletic staff as well as to the players. When sports were suspended in the spring of 2020, most of the athletic staff switched to online work. But even now that everyone is back on campus and sports have resumed, daily operations aren’t the same.
“Usual focus on ticket sales and marketing plans turned into implementing COVID policies and procedures to allow our student-athletes to compete safely and minimal fans to attend,” Scott Peace, Assistant Athletic Director of Marketing and Fanbase at UE, said.
Because all sports’ seasons were moved to the spring semester for the 2020-2021 school year, athletic staff have had to manage a year’s worth of work within a semester-long time frame. “Having all 17 sports competing simultaneously this spring has been very difficult for our staff that is already undersized. We had to rethink everything we did to ensure that we were making the right, safe decisions every step of the way. This included halting ticket sales for all sports which drastically impacts our revenue,” Peace said. COVID-19 has forced the athletic department to make a lot of major adjustments in order to keep sports programs operating and competing.
From athletic department operations to the atmosphere of competition, COVID-19 has impacted sports at UE in unexpected ways, but athletes and staff have worked hard to overcome these challenges as their first season back on the track, court and field finishes.