Before COVID-19 changed the nature of competitive sports, once a semester the bottom floor of Westminster College’s Health, Wellness and Athletic Center would be filled with spectators excitedly watching the annual bouldering competition. The only thing the Westminster Outdoor Program switched up this year to adhere to public health recommendations is the scoring system.
This year, the Spring bouldering competition looked a little different from previous years. Competitors reserved staggered time slots at Bishop Wall in HWAC to compete instead of all at once in front of a live audience.
Competitors also self-recorded the different routes they attempted. A route is a path a climber needs to follow in order to successfully complete the climb. Competitors kept track of how many times they tried each route, and how many times they fell off before completion.
These changes purposefully altered the competitive environment. Junior outdoor education major Tate Michener said organizers wanted to use the competition to reach people within the campus community who aren’t typically seen at Bishop Wall.
“At the climbing wall we tend to get the same people who come regularly,” Michener said. “The [competition] feels like an awesome way to reach out to the wider campus community and get other people involved.”
As a result, many new climbers participated in this year’s competition.
Olivia Shively, an environmental science major, participated in the competition this semester after her roommate competed this past Fall semester. Shively said the change in competition structure was a positive influence to competition.
“The week-long period is a really nice thing because it allows you to progress and I really appreciate that,” Shively said.
Noah Drake Duval, a senior finance major and ski club member, is taking a climbing class this semester and said the class piqued his interest in the competition.
“I’m not even familiar with past competitions anyway, I kind of just heard about it and I’ve been doing the class,” Duval said. “So I thought it would be a fun way to keep track and maybe witness some progress.”
Progress is a big takeaway from this year’s competition for many competitors. Another reason why the competition was changed to a week-long strategy was to promote social distancing. Competitors were permitted to return to the wall all week long to keep trying routes.
A limit of four people can be at the wall at one time to ensure everyone has safe space available, so competitors were instructed to reserve time slots ahead.
“This [competition] in particular, we tried to take a more inclusive approach,” Michener said. “We found in the past that it was really dominated by white males who were climbing really hard routes and all the focus was on them.”
The Outdoor Program took some intentional steps to change this exclusive pattern of competition.
“This year we got rid of the words, ‘beginner,’ ‘intermediate,’ ‘advanced’ to try to reframe and make it less intimidating for newer climbers to come in,” Michener said. “It’s been really awesome. We’ve seen way more participation in this [competition] than we ever have. Almost all of them are female-identifying people which is really cool because that’s been a demographic we’ve been lacking in the past.”
Competitors who may have felt intimidated to compete in the past were encouraged to try something new.
“Since it was self-scored and I don’t have guys watching at all […] it was good,” said senior aviation major Kat Panasuk. “I feel like there’s less pressure — I just climb with girls. I think they do a good job at Westminster to make girls feel included and safe, but the masculinity around climbing is sometimes a no-go for me.”
Others said the absence of spectators also made the competition easier to participate in.
“I recently started climbing so I wouldn’t want to compete in something I’m bad at,” Shively said. “But even my freshman year when I climbed a little bit, the contests seemed like they were for people who were really good at climbing. I wouldn’t want people to have to watch me fall and do it over and over again for thirty minutes.”
The competition wrapped up April 10, with the Outdoor Program reporting several new participants. The event left competitors with a positive experience participating and learning to climb.