On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and college students, many of whom were on spring break, were asked not to return to campus. The next day, professional, college and recreational sports were canceled.
Since students have been invited to return to campuses across the country, Westminster College has worked to ensure college athletes could participate in their sport for their championship seasons.
“It was the most complex and challenging year, and unique set of circumstances we’ve ever dealt with or navigated,” said Shay Wyatt, the Director of Athletics at Westminster College.
It was uncertain whether or not Westminster would be having an athletic year, according to Wyatt.
The athletic department relied heavily on the guidance of local health authorities, as well as the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, to determine what protocols and mandates participants would follow.
“The NCAA through their sports science institute actually categorized each of the sports by transmission risk level,” Wyatt said. “They were given either a high, moderate or low transmission risk level and from there, guidance came out and that was kind of the barometer [of how we determined] what our testing protocols would be.”
Wyatt said that if a sport was considered to have a high risk of transmission, they tested more frequently than one that had a moderate to low. Depending on whether the sport was played indoors or outdoors, there were different social distancing, mask and timing protocols put in place.
According to the NCAA, sports that were considered “high-risk” were basketball, field hockey, football, ice hockey, lacrosse, rowing, rugby, soccer, squash, volleyball, water polo, wrestling.
Medium transmission risk sports were acrobatics and tumbling, baseball, beach volleyball, cross country, gymnastics, softball, triathlon.
Low transmission risk sports were bowling, diving, equestrian, fencing, golf, rifle, skiing, swimming, tennis, track and field.
According to the Westminster athletics’ COVID-19 information and resources page, examples of these protocols include weekly testing and testing before athletic events. It also included restricted access to training facilities, time limits for trainers and athletes, cleaning procedures performed often such as tables wiped down after each use and practice equipment cleaned after each use.
“I was very proud of our institution, how we handled [the pandemic] and navigated it,” Wyatt said. “It was not easy and we’re still not entirely out of the woods, there’s still challenges but we’re willing to adjust and take the necessary precautionary measures to have some sense of a season.”
The Westminster athletic department required student athletes, staff and coaches to use the Healthy Together app to log their symptoms daily to determine if they were eligible to use the facilities, be on campus, and attend practices, training sessions or games.
“That was a helpful tool to be honest, I think it helped us manage our department,” Wyatt said. “Once the student athletes got familiarized with it, there were a few bumps in the road as we were introducing it, but I think over time it seemed to become a pretty seamless protocol for the majority.”
As of now, Wyatt announced that the Healthy Together app will not be used for the 2021-2022 school year.
Flow of the Season
On April 15, Westminster announced Jenteal Jackson to be the Head Women’s Basketball Coach. She was previously the assistant coach to Shelley Jarrard.
“It was definitely a very challenging year,” Jackson said. “I don’t think anyone that’s played sports has experienced anything like that, and hopefully knock on wood, we never will again.”
“I’ve never experienced prepping, planning, watching film for an upcoming opponent and then realizing after hours of work there’s a chance we may not play this game,” Jackson said. “As a coach it was tough to know what to do or [how to] help [the players] in those situations because it’s nothing that anyone has ever experienced before.”
Jackson said that she thought the athletic department, as well as the institution as a whole did a good job with safety protocols such as on-site testing availability.
“I think the safety guidelines were good, and getting tested every week was smart,” Jackson said. “We were lucky that [President Dobkin] got that on campus, we were one of the luckiest ones in our conference because there were teams that missed games because they didn’t get their tests back in time because they had to send them off to labs.”
While testing was not an issue for Westminster’s athletic teams, student athletes faced other challenges in preparation for their seasons.
“It was tricky. We were starting practice at the beginning of the year and our girls were having to wear masks and it’s hard,” Jackson said. “It’s hard enough, they’re trying to get in shape at that time of the year and then to have your face covered with something was challenging for sure.”
Jackson said that she thought that Westminster did a good job at keeping everyone safe, while also giving athletics its best chance to compete and have a season.
With 163 million people fully vaccinated in the United States, Westminster has invited students to return to campus for in-person classes, and expect the return of college traditions including athletics.
Moe Oswin, a first-year student athlete from Bellingham, Washington established his commitment in fall of 2020 to play lacrosse for Westminster.
“[This year] is going to be different from what I’ve been experiencing because I haven’t been experiencing any real high level lacrosse lately just with my high school because my select team season got canceled,” Oswin said.
During his senior year, Oswin said his team only got to play a few games, they did not play for a state championship. They also had no COVID-19 requirements where they needed to test negative regularly to participate in the sport.
“I’m probably most excited just to get on campus and meet the new team, meet my new teammates and really just raise my own game,” Oswin said.
Oswin said that he has already been in contact with a few members on the men’s lacrosse team, some other first-year players and some upper-level students.
As student athletes, coaches and staff look forward to the new year, administrators and coaches offer guidance to student athletes at Westminster.
When asked for advice for first-year student athletes, Director of Athletics Shay Wyatt and Women’s Head Basketball Coach Jenteal Jackson both said to not take playing sports in college for granted. They said that student athletes should make the most out of every training, practice and game because unforeseeable circumstances–such as pandemics-can occur.
Moe Oswin received the advice Westminster staff shared with student athletes.
“I’ll take the advice from people and not take anything for granted,” Oswin said. “I’ll just make sure to not let anything go too fast, and I’ll take advantage of the opportunities I have to get better as a lacrosse player, better my education and meet new people.”