Shekinah Duthie, Campus Carrier asst. sports editor
After a semester without athletic competitions and limited practice opportunities, Berry’s varsity teams are set to resume intercollegiate play this semester. While the pandemic has dictated new norms for day-to-day life, the Berry Athletics Department has worked with fellow Southern Athletic Association (SAA) colleges to ensure conference play would be possible by modifying its usual practices to accommodate new COVID-19 precautions.
This semester, both fall and spring sports plan to travel and compete. According to football head coach Tony Kunczewski, to maximize player and personnel safety throughout this process, the athletics department has reinforced last semester’s regulations to adhere to general college guidelines and new precautions from the SAA.
To ensure reduced spread during practices as well as during competition on campus and on the road, the athletic department has introduced increased safety measures. One notable change is the implementation of regular testing for athletics. As President Steve Briggs explained during the Berry virtual Town Hall on spring semester that occurred on Jan. 7, all athletes, coaches and support personnel will be tested regularly. This will be especially true prior to a team competing against other schools and traveling off campus for games.
“We will have them do an antigen test three times a week and a PCR once a week,” Briggs said. “Or if any athlete tests positive, games are canceled.”
Furthermore, spectators will be limited to students and staff to enable social distancing at events and aid the process of contact tracing should the virus spread through the audience.
Most Berry sports are contact-based, which made last semester especially difficult when trying to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 among athletes. However, the new provisions are aimed to overcome that difficulty. These restrictions include the requirement for each athlete to have their own water bottles and maintain social distance when their masks are off. With this additional protocol in place, Kunczewski said he looks forward to maintaining in-person and full team practices for the duration of the competitive season.
“We’re able to practice with our whole team, we weren’t able to do that at all in the fall,” Kunczewski said.
Head volleyball coach Caitlyn Moriarty said that the players are masked during practice and will also be masked during their games.
Both Kunczewski and Moriarty expressed the difficulty this pandemic has posed to the athletic department throughout the last couple of months. Both also said they were thankful that the new precautions and regulations will enable their teams to practice and compete.
“We’re just thankful that we can be together as a team.” Kunczewsk said.
To ensure athletes can continue to compete with teams outside of Berry, there will also be additional precautions for athletes when traveling. In the aforementioned Town Hall, Briggs said that the athletes’ means of transportation and lodging will be restricted to a team bubble to reduce potential contact with the virus. Director of athletics Angel Mason said this would be especially true when it came to dining.
“One of our policies is that we don’t eat in a shared space when we’re on the road,” Mason said. “Things will be picked up and they’ll go to their hotel rooms unless they can have a private dining space.”
Additionally, athletes from other schools will have restricted access to campus and interactions with Berry community members when they come play at Berry.
“On game days when athletes come visit here, they won’t be allowed to interact with any of our other students other than student-athletes,” Briggs said.
This precaution is not only to reduce any potential spread at Berry should an opposing player be carrying the virus, but also serves to protect Berry’s opponents from getting the virus on their travels. With this in mind, Mason said the athletic department will also be monitoring the situation in Rome so as to help their opponents get food if needed.
“Every time we have things that pop up, they’ll be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and we will in no way, shape or form ever put our student athletes or our visitors in a space where we could be putting them at risk,” Mason said. “So if we have some concerns, if Rome is at a really bad place, we’ll make arrangements so that people have all their meals delivered right to the bus and they’re able to just get going from there.”
Mason said that the department and the conference will be constantly reviewing the protocols in place in the hope they can safely make it through the semester and provide every sport an opportunity to play.
“We’re taking into consideration all of the things that we’ve been told are best practice and going above and beyond those, and that’s why everything’s continually under review,” Mason said. “There’s no guarantee that we’ll be doing this in a month. Our hope is that we’ll be able to do so, and our department has three very simple goals: first, for us to do our part to stay together as a campus for the semester; second, that we do what we need to do to be able to keep our team together within our control; and third, we put ourselves in the best situation to be able to have the opportunity to compete. If we get to go to competition, we find that to be a win.”