By Max McKenna ’24 (he/him)
COVID-19: infamous for robbing us of so many things we take for granted. One of the most prominent disruptions has been live sporting events. A couple months back, nobody was sure if sporting events would even be a remote possibility this year. But, to the joy of many, live sports have returned. At the collegiate level, football Saturdays have returned, and plans are underway to get the NCAA basketball season rolling in November. This move has been exciting, but controversial, and much is still up in the air in regards to how long it will last.
While we watch major NCAA football programs take the field each weekend, we tend to overlook the non-contact sports that still have their seasons on pause due to the pandemic. It’s interesting to note that in professional sports, non-contact events, like the PGA Tour, returned to play much more quickly than basketball or hockey. It doesn’t take long to pose the question of why NCAA sports such as tennis, swimming, and golf aren’t playing – but football is? It is a compelling situation: a full-contact sport like football is in the midst of its season, while non-contact, socially-distanced sports are still on the sidelines. I talked to several players and coaches of non-contact sports teams here at Davidson to get their takes on the issue.
The non-contact sport athletes at Davidson have enjoyed more nomalacy during training sessions than those in contact sports. Golf practices have stayed relatively the same during COVID-19, with the players being able to utilize the whole course and driving range. Unfortunately, the team is missing out on several key tournaments this fall.
Audrey Grammel ‘21, who both swims and runs cross-country for Davidson, explained that cross-country practices have remained largely the same, but swim practices have been reduced to one swimmer per every other lane. Tennis practices have been split up into several small groups of four or five players. For competitions, they have been limited to intrasquad tournaments.
When asked if it was at all frustrating to see contact sports playing, Men’s Golf Coach Tim Straub shared a different concern. “It’s not even so much about football and those sports, but it’s a little frustrating in that there are other conferences that are allowed to compete this fall.” The major conferences that are competing this fall are the SEC and Big 12, among others. Even amidst his frustration, Coach Straub later emphasized that he knew the administration’s intent was to look out for player safety.
Safety was a key theme for many athletes. While missing out on the fall season is tough, Davidson players have a mitigated risk of contracting COVID-19 compared to many schools, and this benefit was not lost on the players.
“I’m happy that we’re leaning towards the side of caution,” Liz Truluck ‘22 of Women’s Tennis commented. “It’s definitely weird [that] some of these football programs play, and it seems kind of crazy that they’re letting these games go on, but I’m just happy we were able to come back to campus.”
Men’s golf standout Alex Ross ‘21 feels a strong frustration with the apparent double standard going on. “I mean it’s pretty ridiculous. It sucks. You know, obviously watching football play, and there’s an SEC golf tournament going on. It’s pretty frustrating, and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but we don’t have control over the situation.”
For seniors such as Ross, the disappointment and confusion is abundantly clear. As to how they’re responding to this adversity, Ross said they are “wearing the punches and waiting to see what’s next.”
In contrast, other athletes focused on different aspects of the situation and emphasized the extra time to prepare for spring seasons. Men’s Tennis player Yash Parikh ‘21 didn’t seem to mind seeing contact sports competing. When asked if he was frustrated, he said, “No. Not at all. I think we have got to do what we got to do right now.” He added, “I think we’re making the best of the situation,” and concluded by saying the delayed season “has given us time to work on more technical aspects of the game.”
Like Parikh, Grammel wasn’t too dismayed to see contact sports playing. “I dont think it’s frustrating, we’re all very well aware [the Davidson administrators] are doing what they need to do to stay safe and make sure everyone else is safe. We know that we have a responsibility to our team and the greater community, and we’re happy to do whatever we can to ensure everyone else’s safety.”
Davidson athletes and coaches prioritize the safety of the Davidson community and endure the adversity of having their seasons postponed in order to ensure our collective safety. Although COVID-19 has produced many negatives, one positive has been the ability for athletes to spend more time on technical components of their game in preparation for the spring. Lastly, our athletes have demonstrated an acute ability to persevere and adapt to a fluid and evolving situation.
While our non-contact sport athletes continue their training, the only thing we can do right now is look forward to the spring. Hopefully, the extra precautions Davidson has prioritized this fall will lead to a safe and successful campaign for all our ‘Cats teams.