By Cameron Krakowiak ‘24 (He/Him/His), Staff Writer
Davidson College prides itself on being an institution with premier academics and athletics that follow suit. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has put Davidson’s athletic norms on hold–the A-10 and Pioneer league announced in July that all competitions would be postponed until the spring of 2021.
Postponing for students’ safety, however, hasn’t been the first priority for every school in the United States. Many conferences, including the Big 12, Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), BIG 10, and Southeastern Conference (SEC), have all decided to play full seasons. The PAC-12 was the only Power Five conference that cancelled all competitions for the fall.
Sports are a powerful financial tool for many Power Five conference schools. According to USA Today, in 2019, the Power Five conferences netted a combined $2.9 billion in revenue from football seasons alone.
For Davidson scholar-athletes, the postponement inspired mixed feelings. Davidson athletes continue varsity practices, but they do so at a restricted level with objective phases to keep the players safe.
Katherine Smith ‘21 is a defender for the Women’s Soccer team. “I was obviously really crushed that [the season was] postponed. We’d been really working hard over the spring and summer to come back for the fall,” she said. “But I feel safe here now; there has never been a point in time where I’ve felt concerned about my safety”.
Quarterback and Captain of Davidson’s football team Tyler Phelps ‘21 had a similar response to the postponement. “I understand why it happened. I understand the college’s decision and the other schools’ in our conference,” he said. “It’s weird being in the middle of September and not getting ready to play a game on Saturday.”
For Davidson athletes, there is still a fear of missing out. In response to seeing other schools continuing athletics through COVID-19, Smith expressed frustration. “I get sad and jealous that they get to play and we don’t. But then I also think about how that’s not a super smart decision. So, I am frustrated and sad, but, thinking about the Davidson community, I wouldn’t want to put our school or team at risk,” she said.
“As a college football fan it’s cool,” Phelps affirmed. “I get to actually watch some games that I wouldn’t otherwise [… ], but as a competitor and a player it sucks.” He added, “There are some mixed emotions as a fan and as a player.”
Jamie Hendricks, Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations and Game Operations, and Joey Beeler, Director of Athletic Communications, have worked hard this fall to prepare for the spring and to keep the Davidson community engaged with sports. In particular, Beeler and Hendricks are trying their best to keep fans engaged over social media and through virtual content. Student-Athlete Spotlights, Catching Up with the ’Cats, and virtual tailgates are a few of the events that fans can get behind while staying safe.
“We don’t want to fall by the wayside while the rest of life is going on, and everyone has obviously got a lot of different things pulling them one side or another,” he said. “Our team gets together and we just spitball a lot until we come up with something that sounds like a good fit.” Hendricks smiled and added,“that a.) engages, but also is a healthy and responsible way to engage.”
Beeler, a huge advocate for spotlighting scholar athletes for who they are outside of competition, stated, “Everyone has a story to tell, it’s just about a matter of diving in and finding the best way to tell that story.”
Adjusting to this year’s reworked practices has been tough for the players as well. Usually, each fall sport has two weeks before campus reopens to have preseason. According to Women’s Soccer Coach Adam Denton, preseason is the time when “you have a lot of bonding”–a time where Davidson first years are able to meet upperclassmen and adapt to the team’s framework.
Smith described how the fall’s adapted practices this fall have created a different dynamic for her team. “There has been more of a challenge to get to know the freshman and hang out with people on the team I’ve been friends with,” she said. “That’s been kinda tricky with this situation.”
Despite these challenges, Phelps praised the administration and Athletic Department, saying, “They’ve been super understanding and willing to help us as much as they can.” He said he feels “pretty confident that we’ll play in the spring; there is talk of them putting a schedule together now, and I don’t really see why they won’t.”
Whether on the field or behind the scenes, the Davidson athletic community can’t wait to get back on the field. But they are making the best of the circumstances each and every day.
“Some schools have said ‘don’t come back,’” Coach Denton observed. Davidson, however, has “given us a platform that keeps the student body safe, to continue to train in a capacity that leads towards the spring, and our players are grateful for that.”