Over the summer, Hope College made the difficult decision to cancel athletic competition for the Fall 2020 semester.
This decision came as part of their efforts to maintain a safe, healthy environment on campus that would make in-person learning possible. According to the Hope Athletics web page titled “Hope College Fall Athletics Postponement FAQ,” the school made this decision “based on information from state and local medical experts and guidelines from the NCAA.”
The reality of these cancellations has been hard on many of Hope’s student athletes.
“It’s very disappointing not being able to throw on the pads and compete this season with our guys,” said Ryan Young, a junior on the football team. “I know the entire team feels this way, especially with the momentum we wanted to carry over from last season.”
Not only have fall athletes been affected, but winter and spring athletes have felt the repercussions of this decision as well.
Senior Claire Bates, a member of the softball team, said that they, too, have had to cancel games that would have taken place this fall. While softball’s official season isn’t until the spring, there are some games the team traditionally plays in the fall that they are unable to participate in this year.
“So, typically we would have alumni or we have a Cornerstone weekend where Cornerstone comes and we play three games. But since we’re not doing that this fall we just get to scrimmage a lot more, which is fun and has its perks in its own ways,” Bates said.
Canceled games are not the only way in which this season is atypical. Many different protocols have been put in place to keep the athletes healthy and make sure their practices follow college and state guidelines. For example, some of the teams are splitting up practices to have fewer people in the same place at one time. According to a senior on the cross country team, Nicole Prihoda, the runners are split into two groups for practices, with some running in the morning and others in the afternoon.
“That has been nice to some extent, but it also makes the team feel a lot less connected since we don’t get to see everybody every day like usual,” Prihoda said.
The football team is doing something similar by having offense and defense practicing on different fields at staggered times. According to Young, this is being done to help ensure that proper social distancing is a reality.
Whether their season is in the fall or not, all athletes are using this time to focus on training and preparing for upcoming seasons. According to Prihoda, members of the cross country team are using this time to start training for the spring track season, since many of the members of the two teams overlap.
Similarly, freshman football player Trevor Poisson said that the football team is looking ahead to their spring season. According to Poisson, the team is taking this time to look more in depth at their strategy than they would usually have time for, in order to best prepare them for the spring.
“So like, right now, this kind of fall season we have is pretty much dedicated just to training, which is amazing for a freshman, because usually you come in and they’re just throwing everything at you. Right now we’re really breaking it down so everybody can develop and kinda learn the playbook a lot better, and when we get to the spring we can just go go go, which is really nice,” Poisson said.
Official decisions about exactly what the winter and spring athletic seasons will look like have yet to be made. Still, Bates said that she remains optimistic about the team being able to compete when spring rolls around.
“I think that’s really what keeps the team going and keeps the hope up, is the hope for the spring season. So it’s just something to look forward to, it’s something to strive for still,” Bates said.
Bates’ optimism is shared by many of her fellow student athletes. This can be seen in the women’s basketball team’s motto for the season, which is “attack the unknown.” According to junior basketball player Kate Majerus, the team is hopeful that their season will be able to start as planned, but the world right now is far from predictable.
“With so much uncertainty, we are making it a priority to not just get through the unknown, but to aggressively and proactively do all that we can to make the most of every day,” Majerus said.
Still, maintaining a positive attitude all of the time can be challenging. Hope for the spring season is motivating many of the athletes to put their all into their training right now. However, that light at the end of the tunnel is a long way off, which can make staying motivated a struggle.
“It’s extremely difficult practicing knowing there isn’t a game waiting for us at the end of the week,” Young said.
Despite the disappointment he feels over not being able to compete, Young said that he still supports the decision made by the college to cancel the fall season. “As tough as it was to accept, I believe Hope made the right decision canceling fall athletics. There are too many variables that go into a football season and other athletics that trying to play right now during a pandemic just wouldn’t work,” Young said.
Young is not alone in his support of the college’s decision on this matter. While many student athletes are disappointed by canceled games and altered practices, they also understand that it is for their safety.
“At the end of the day, I’ve always felt the decision-makers at Hope do it right and always have our best interests at heart,” Majerus said.
For now, student athletes are taking things one day at a time and looking for the positives in all of this. Poisson said that his coach has helped players remain optimistic by reminding them each day that they are able to play football. “So we’re just taking every day as a positive and taking it as it comes and doing whatever we can to play some football,” Poisson said.
For students like Poisson and Bates, the game is not all about competition right now. It’s about being grateful to have the opportunity to play the sport they love.
“Right now we are fired up to be on the field. It’s been so long since we’ve been together as a team. I think we could not be happier to be together again and practicing,” Bates said. “And we’re really, really happy to be able to play the sport we love, even if it’s just practicing.”