By Grace Snell, Viking Fusion Reporter
Updated: July 31, 2020
Berry’s athletic departments, staff, and student athletes look forward to practice and future training sessions despite the recent suspension of fall sports due to the continued spread of COVID-19.
On July 16, the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) announced the suspension all fall athletic conference and championship play as a response to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. This decision came after many athletic conferences across the nation had canceled or postponed their fall sports over concerns that the physical contact and travel involved would increase students’ risk of exposure.
Although disappointed, Director of Athletics Angel Mason said she believes the conference made the right choice.
“These are very difficult decisions, and none of them are being taken lightly,” Mason said. “Berry values what athletics, as all of our co-curricular areas, bring to the campus but we have to remember to prioritize our students first.”
The SAA hopes to hold championships for fall sports in the spring of 2021, a decision Mason said will be subject to evaluation throughout the year.
Meanwhile, faculty, staff, and coaches at Berry are working to figure out what comes next for the college’s athletic programs. All sports at Berry will feel the effects of this schedule change, but Mason said those currently feeling the brunt of the delay are fall programs such as soccer, football, cross-country, and volleyball.
Due to the suspension of these programs, student athletes are no longer moving in early for pre-season training for the fall semester of 2020, but athletes are doing their best to make up for lost time.
Many student athletes from these programs have independently trained for their fall season ever since Berry transitioned to online learning in March. To build on this momentum, Mason said the athletic department intends to allow athletes to practice together through the fall, although the department is awaiting updated policies and resocialization guidelines from the NCAA.
“We have some ability to control our bubble,” Mason said, “and so we totally plan on having our student athletes continue to be able to practice and train and do their leadership counsels.”
While the athletic department will also explore options for non-conference play, Mason said this is uncertain, as an increasing number of schools are canceling in-person classes, suspending varsity athletics or restricting athletes to only conference play. This situation is ever-changing, and Mason hopes to have more concrete information in the next few weeks.
As they work toward definitive plans, Head Football Coach Tony Kunczewski said it is a top priority to keep athletes as informed as possible. However, many questions remain regarding the future of fall sports.
This has been especially true for the women’s soccer team, who have been without a head coach since the retirement of Lorenzo Canalis in May. Thursday, however, the athletic department announced that Kathy Insel Brown, a Berry alumna, has been hired as the team’s new head coach.
In the middle of this uncertainty and change, students are considering how the absence of sports will affect their daily lives. Vanessa Belanger, co-captain of the women’s soccer team, said while the SAA’s decision did not come as a surprise, it was still a disappointment.
“It was just hard to hear ‘you’re not going to be able to play conference games in the fall; what you’ve been working for isn’t going to come as soon as you thought,’” Belanger said.
Gabby Brown, a sophomore on the women’s cross-country team, said she is grieving the loss of team rituals and routines, along with the sense of identity sports give her.
“If you play a sport in college, that’s part of your life, that’s part of who you are,” Brown said. “And it’s just been very difficult to maintain your sense of self when part of you is gone.”
Other students look at the suspension of competition with a different perspective. Sophomore soccer player Ellie Sherrod believes the suspension gives the team more time to prepare for future play and build team chemistry with a new coach at the helm.
“For me personally, I kind of see it as a bonus—just a couple more months to keep putting more work in to prepare for season,” Sherrod said.
Austin Schriver, a junior on the football team, agreed.
“At the end of the day if we stay focused and keep on working like we’re going to be playing soon, then I think that we’ll be in good shape whenever we do get a season,” Schriver said.