Taylor Corley, Campus Carrier editor-in-chief
The men and women’s track and field teams kicked off their 2021 spring season at the Roanoke elite indoor meet on Feb. 6. Currently both teams are preparing for 13 scheduled meets that are subject to change depending on the COVID-19 pandemic, with four being hosted at Berry. As they enter into this season of unknowns, both athletes and coaches are trying to maintain a positive mindset.
According to Luke Syverson, head of the men and women’s track team, and assistant coach of the cross country team, one of the biggest challenges that he is facing as a coach is learning to approach each day as it comes.
“For me as a coach, and I think for the rest of us coaches in the athletic department, our mindset has had to change to be similar to what we told the athletes which is to live in the moment,” Syverson said. “For us as coaches, we’re planners. We plan things way in advance, like training program plans, weight lifting plans, schedules, all that stuff, so when you don’t have control over a lot of that planning, it’s hard for us coach type personalities to deal with.”
The men and women’s track and field team are subject to the same mandated masks, weekly testing as well as testing 24 hours before a competition, and physical distancing regulations as other athletic teams. According to freshman Mackenzie Fowler, the precaution that has caused the most difficulty when it comes to supporting fellow teammates is the physical distancing rule.
“For practice the main thing is masks, always, because we wear those pretty much all the time,” Fowler said. “We also can’t be as close together as we would like and we’re all a little timid because after a hard workout, if someone’s lying on the ground, we can’t go over there and like pick them up we just be like, ‘get up’ kind of thing and that makes us feel like dang.”
The team is also having to adjust to constant, and often last minute, re-scheduling of meets and invitationals. Competitors might have to pull out of meets either because of quarantined athletes, COVID-19 outbreaks on teams or another school’s inability to comply with the strictest pandemic precautionary measures.
Berry’s next meet was supposed to be between four schools: Rhodes, Centre, Oglethorpe and Berry, according to Syverson. Rhodes and Centre are no longer participating, leaving Berry’s track and field teams to compete with Oglethorpe alone.
“The nice thing about our sport is that it’s outside, so there’s a little bit easier way to navigate and mitigate the COVID restrictions and protocols,” Syverson said. “At the same time, our sport is typically larger, like when you go to compete it’s not just us and one school, so you’re talking 1,000 people walking around and interacting with each other. We can plan all we want but who knows if the other teams we’re competing against are going to cancel because of quarantine or what not.”
Although the possibility of cancelations can be difficult for coaches and athletes to grapple with, Syverson has been trying to keep a positive morale for the team.
“The message we’ve told our athletes is to just be thankful for the opportunity of today because who knows when something is going to get canceled tomorrow,” Syverson said. “That mindset has been kind of hard to get used to from a mental health standpoint, but making the most out of every opportunity and not taking it for granted has kind of been the message.”
Syverson acknowledges that stress has also been another difficulty that all student athletes are working to overcome during this new era of sports competitions amidst a global pandemic.
“The biggest thing for me is just the whole issue of mental health,” Syverson said. “Students are already dealing with stress with classes, and now you’re bringing that stress into practice and athletic competitions. I think all the stress adding up has made it more difficult on our student athletes. There’s a lot more on their plate and there are a lot more things they’re thinking about and so that has been one of the biggest challenges that’s not even track specific.”
The team has directly seen the effects of this stress overload as some athletes have had to make decisions in regards to what they want to prioritize in their college careers.
“There have been a few athletes that have quit our team this year because they either didn’t want to deal with the weekly testing or they didn’t want to deal with wearing a mask at practice,” Syverson said. “They felt it just wasn’t worth it and they’d rather focus on their classes and jobs.”
Still, the biggest hindrance right now is limited opportunities to compete. The indoor season has been canceled, and according to Syverson, who is on the executive board for division three track and field, half of the coaches are not competing or practicing at all in the spring.
“Like any of the sports on campus, it seems monumental for us just to get to the point of being able to compete,” Syverson said. “I’m appreciative of our administration, like Debbie Heida, Angel Mason, Dr. Briggs, doing everything they can to make it happen. Obviously I would love to have more, but again I’m thankful to be in a position where we’re fighting for opportunities and I’m thankful for what we do have.”