Student-athletes and staff at Westminster College have raised concerns about crowded athletic facilities and overworked staff after the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) made the decision to postpone Fall sports to the Spring season.
The decision came directly in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to Chris Graham, the head commissioner for the RMAC.
“This is probably one of the most major decisions this league has ever made,” Graham said.
Graham said the biggest reason for the postponement was the lack of testing capabilities available in the Fall semester.
“We weren’t at an optimal point for our institutions and our athletic departments to test on a regular basis,” Graham said. “These capabilities are a thousand percent better now.”
However, with over 250 student-athletes currently in season at Westminster, many staff and student-athletes say they worry about being stretched thin.
“We knew that it was going to be a challenge just with the resources we have as a small college,” said Josh Juarez, one of the four athletic trainers at Westminster. “Typically, we have been able to make things work with minimal outside help. However, with it being a COVID year, and having multiple sports that aren’t normally in season together, it’s really made us stretch.”
Men’s and women’s soccer are examples of two Fall NCAA sports whose seasons were postponed until the 2021 Spring semester. Now, these teams share training room and weight room space with the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams — often at the same time — creating more crowded spaces and overlapped schedules among athletic staff.
In the Fall of 2020, training rooms in the Payne and Health, Wellness, and Activity Center (HWAC) buildings were expanded to accommodate the required 6-foot distance between each athlete. The dance studio in the basement of Payne became an extra space for training tables and treatment spaces, while an additional classroom in HWAC has been utilized for extra taping areas.
“It’s still very difficult to keep that space, and it’s not perfect, but we’ve done a good job so far with the space we’ve been given,” Juarez said.
Some student-athletes said they were concerned about the extra contact between trainers and athletes now that more athletes are currently active.
“I am a little bit worried about our trainers just because they have so much more contact with all of the other athletes,” said Alex Tholen, a student-athlete on the men’s soccer team.
All four athletic trainers at Westminster have been vaccinated. However, other students said they have concerns about receiving the best treatment possible since they aren’t always with the same trainer.
“We have a new trainer every week, it seems like,” said Skyler Kjellander, another student-athlete on the men’s soccer team. “Trying to get the right treatment set-up is very difficult.”
In the weight room, larger teams such as lacrosse and soccer have been divided into smaller lifting groups to keep attendance numbers down. This has proven to be a challenge for Alex Wetmore and Lacie Helfert, the two strength and conditioning coaches in charge of all athletic teams at Westminster.
However, Wetmore said despite the heavier workload, he’s seen many positive changes come out of the Spring season adjustment.
“One positive of coaching smaller groups has been the greater attention we’ve been able to give each individual athlete during training,” Wetmore said. “We’ve seen some great progress this year and we’re excited to see it all pay off in competition.”
RMAC administrators said they feel that they made the right decision in moving Fall sports to the Spring and trust that member institutions are taking the appropriate measures to accommodate the ongoing pandemic, according to Graham, the RMAC commissioner.
“Anecdotally, from everything I’ve heard and from the limited number of positive cases that I’ve seen in the start of spring sports, I think [RMAC schools] are doing a fantastic job,” Graham said.
Trainers and student-athletes said they feel confident that as vaccine administrations increase in Utah and testing capabilities continue to improve, the 2021 Spring season will only be a temporary situation.
“If we can get through this year, we can get through anything,” Juarez said.