As a new semester of school begins in the midst of a global pandemic, we begin to see the major changes made to our usual busy school schedules.
One of these major changes is the absence and changes made to the sports on Franciscan University of Steubenville’s campus.
As the Presidents’ Athletic Conference made the final judgement call on sports this school semester, the many student-athletes of Franciscan looked with jealousy at the university’s tennis and golf teams, the only teams granted permission to have their usual season.
But a week into the semester, the PAC switched it up again and canceled all sports, including the “low-contact” sports like tennis and golf. The final changes made to the sports at Franciscan said that all sports, high-contact and low-contact, were canceled until January for the safety of all student-athletes.
The PAC looked to the National Collegiate Athletic Association for guidance in their decision making, and even though it was difficult, based their decisions on the safety of the students and faculty members.
But these changes to sports have not kept our student-athletes from practicing, even if the practices are less frequent and full of COVID-19 restrictions.
“Nobody’s going to be competing, but everybody can practice,” said women’s lacrosse coach Maura Carapellotti. “We used to have designated seasons, like a number of weeks to practice, but now we have a total number of days.”
The practices held by sport teams will have to be socially distanced, and athletes must wear masks when not exerting themselves. This cancels out scrimmages and high-contact drills for the sport teams.
Carapellotti said that it was disappointing that teams could not compete, but that it was an opportunity for athletes to work on individual skill and transition work.
“Because we have to socially distance in practice, we can’t scrimmage, we can look at what skills we can improve in, and just building those relationships as a team,” said Carapellotti.
Because the COVID-19 situation is so unpredictable, Carapellotti said that Franciscan is simply taking it day by day, and that the state of Franciscan sports could change by the 2021 spring semester.
Even though Franciscan has been deprived of its varsity sports, the intramurals have made changes to keep the competition going.
Intramural Coordinator Kelly Herrmann said that her team is working hard to keep the intramurals going so that the semester can have some sense of its usual normalcy.
“We basically had to do a complete wholesale change on our intramural program,” said Herrmann, “because we’ve never had to care about social distancing or virus transmission before. So, we had to look at our sports and say, ‘Can we safely play these sports.’ And the answer was no, across the board. … So, we looked at what other sports we could safely play.”
The new sports introduced to the intramural program this semester are 2 on 2 sand volleyball, badminton, softball, kickball, cornhole and soccer-tennis.
Even though these new sports introduced are low contact and will be played outside, there will still be restrictions.
“We won’t share equipment, and we’re going to demand that the participants, when they are not playing, have masks on, unless they can maintain a clear 6-foot distance,” said Herrmann.
“We’re going to require that of the fans too,” said Herrmann. “This will be a little challenging, but we will make it clear that if we want intramurals to continue, we have to go about this in a safe manner, because the other option is to not have intramurals, and no one wants that.”
Herrmann said that this is an opportunity to bring back sports that used to be played in the intramural program, like badminton and tennis, and hopes that the reintroduction of these sports will continue “even when we go back to our old normal.”
“We’re not really planning for indoor activities yet,” said Herrmann. “But we’re hopeful that sometime in the future, we may be able to do that this semester, and if not, we’re hopeful certainly for next semester.”
“One of the difficulties in planning, is that the situation is constantly changing,” Herrmann said, “so we want to continue to plan in a prudent way and be ready to make adjustments however that’s necessary.”
Herrmann said that they want the students to feel comfortable and peaceful on campus and having things as normal as possible is a big part of that.
The COVID-19 situation is unpredictable and changeable, and hopefully there will be a full return of sports to campus soon.