Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier staff writer
On Oct. 12 all sports teams at Berry resumed practices after having them suspended due to a spike in Berry’s COVID-19 case numbers. Many of the prior regulations remain in place.
These regulations include smaller groups during practice, limiting who could be indoors or outdoors at a specific time during practice and how large the groups can be during conditioning and weight lifting. The coaches still determine exactly what size these groups are depending on their team’s size.
Further regulations since the suspension more clearly defined rules about how the athletics department will be phasing in its return to practices and how these groups relate to that. This is aimed at helping with potential contact tracing and limited contact between athletes.
“[We wanted to have] the student groups, the pods, move together from conditioning to weightlifting to actual athletically related work beyond the baseball field or in the gym or, you know, in the pool so that they kind of just stay in their grouping to help with tracking and tracing and keeping an eye on the health and well-being of all of the student athletes,” Mason said.
Another change is that the department has defined, across all teams, how to monitor positive cases within these small groups.
These changes are largely in effect to help all of the teams have a standardized means of practicing, monitoring potential cases, and maintaining the health of their players on and off the field.
“I think that it’s really to just make sure that we’re all on the same page, that there’s clarity, that everyone understands the expectations for keeping one another healthy, as well as keeping our community, as far as our Berry bubble, healthy,” Mason said.
Mason also believes that the presence of COVID-19 the restrictions that have followed have brought special attention to the role that student athletes play in the Berry community.
“They’re living normal student lives, but right now, due to the pandemic, a normal student life needs to be adjusted a bit because what they do in the residence halls, when they go off campus, when they’re in the dining halls, when they decide to sit outside with a group, when they decide to be in a car with multiple people, all of those things now could have a direct impact on what your team has access to do because … we are all connected to one another,” Mason said.
Mason also believes that this personal responsibility gives an incentive for athletes to do their best in order to have the highest chances of playing games or larger practices through the process of the phases.
“I think that that is something that they’ll appreciate, because they’re not just being told what they have to do, they have some responsibility in it and they have the ability to determine their own outcomes,” Mason said. “So, we’re partners in it.”
The future of the sports teams for this semester and spring 2021 are still very much variable, Mason said. The athletics department is looking into Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NCAA, SAA and the Governor’s office recommendations about what to do relating to COVID-19 regulations. They are also paying attention to the local Rome, Floyd and Berry case numbers to determine whether or not to continue doing the phases of practice regulations.
“[We want] to keep us together for the semester, keep as many of our students as possible and faculty and staff members healthy and making sure that we don’t have any major risk or outbreaks that take place that can cause harm to our community,” Mason said.
As for games and competitions, Mason hopes Berry can have such things, but that it depends on the variability of COVID-19.
“I have people ask, almost daily, what’s the plan, are we playing, are we playing, are we playing, and I can only respond that the goal is to play,” Mason said. “That’s why we engage in sport, the ability to compete. In order to compete, you have to have people to compete against and there are still a lot of moving parts.”
Tony Kunczewski, football head coach, believes that this has been a challenging time, especially in maintaining the belief of team unity.
“It’s specifically challenging for us as a football program because, you know, we can’t even meet with or practice with our whole team…” Kunczewski said. “And so, we really have to get creative.”
The team plans to practice on the practice field for three days out of the week for three weeks and then to transition to weight lifting the last three weeks of the semester. Kunczewski is hopeful that students will follow the regulations provided and help increase the chances that the football team can have a spring season.
Emily Stanley, head coach of softball, believes that flexibility is a key part of allowing sports teams to continue to practice and for Berry to remain on-campus this semester.
“The ultimate goal of all of this is to keep people safe and healthy and so we’re always in for adjusting slightly and figuring how we can do it the best way that we can and help everybody stay as safe as possible,” Stanley said.
Stanley believes that even though the team hasn’t had much time to practice up to now, they are excited to be back on the field and working together and looking forward to playing games.
Caitlyn Moriarty, head coach of volleyball, believes that the regulations are especially important for student athletes because the impact of COVID-19 on this specific population are still largely unknown.
“There is so much we don’t know about the potential long-term effects of the virus on young adults,” Moriarty said. “It’s important we are patient in their return to play.”
Thomas Johnson, head coach of women’s basketball, echoes Moriarty’s concern for the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the bodies of athletes.
“We’re talking about years down the road, you know, these kids have got to have a future, they’ve got to have a productive life, they want to have families,” Johnson said. “So, we want to make sure that we put them in the best position to be able to do that after their basketball or athletic careers are over.”
So far, the women’s basketball team has been able to do a lot of work related to individual goals and practicing, as per the small group regulations for practices. Johnson has been very happy to be back at practice.
“[It’s] Christmas day, every day,” Johnson said. “[The] girls have been phenomenal, energy’s been great. …Anytime I go practice, Christmas Day to me. I enjoy it. That’s what I do.”
Johnson is also looking forward to having a complete season in the future.
“We’ve got seniors that deserve that opportunity and want that opportunity and we’re going to do everything in our power to try to give it to them,” Johnson said.