The fall semester proved to be a unique challenge. Although the campus and culture of Hope College changed drastically, students and faculty preserved and maintained the Hope spirit. The majority of students returning for the 2021 spring semester have expressed excitement and gratitude as they return to campus for living and learning after an unexpectedly lengthy winter break. While the excitement and chaos of reuniting with friends and beginning classes resumes, one thing remains constant: the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With winter weather, consistent social distancing precautions and uncertainty, students are faced with the challenge of staying healthy and active.
Pandemic protocols have hindered sports and exercise abilities since the first stay-at-home order issued by Governor Gretchen Whitmer in mid-March. Fortunately, warm temperatures allowed for an outdoor transition to maintain operations. Across the state, dining, shopping and many activities were able to remain outdoors through the early fall months. However, the new year brought snow with it, making it less common to exercise outdoors and more difficult to facilitate sporting events. Coupled with the conservative nature of COVID-19 protocols by the state of Michigan, many students and Hope College sports teams are left with uncertainty in regards to competition and workouts.
Thankfully, indoor exercise opportunities are still available at Hope College, though exclusively for students and staff. The Dow Center is open with a range of exercise equipment and facilities, featuring a weight room, cardio room, fitness bikes, running track and basketball courts. Students and faculty can access the Dow by reserving a time slot ahead of time. This allows for limited attendance to ensure social distancing and safety. Similar to any other on-campus activity, masks must be worn throughout the workout.
Student athletes are also struggling to find their footing this upcoming season as plans and schedules are fluid and constantly changing. The continuation plans for Hope’s varsity sports teams are varied. One example of this is how the women’s basketball team is continuing with their season, already having captured two wins. The first was against Concordia Chicago, with a score of 97-30, and the second against Alma College with a score of 81-48. In this way, the Dutchmen started their 2021 season strong after a heartbreaking and abrupt end to their previous season due to COVID-19. The 2020 ending effectively halted their rolling winning streak and fantastic national championship chances.
However, not all Hope teams are experiencing a gratifying return to their season. In the Fall 2019 semester, Hope College football enjoyed a successful season, including an appearance in the NCAA Division III playoffs. Coach Peter Stuursma and his team were eager to continue this successful momentum this fall season. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the football team was forced to conduct limited practice and workouts. All games were postponed until a special spring season. However, the football team will no longer be participating in any games this spring and will instead focus on practicing and recovering for next fall. While many players expressed their disappointment and frustration in the decision, they are hoping for a strong return in the fall after a full year of practice and preparation.
Conversely, some traditionally outdoor sports have only experienced a slight change, such as cross country. Hope College cross country team junior Evan Bleitz describes aspects of winter running, an activity that seems exceptionally daunting to most.
“The snow and cold doesn’t bother us too much. We just layer up and keep going. Some days when the weather’s really bad, or we have speed workouts and the track is snowed over, then we’ll run inside.”
The pandemic has also restricted other aspects of cross country and indoor track such as the amounts of athletes allowed to attend competitions, masking policies, and other social distancing standards. However, the real hindrance has been the mental toll on so many student-athletes. Bleitz and other athletes have been forced to reflect on the importance their sport provides them as individuals. Bleitz commented:
“COVID has made me realize how much I rely and look forward to seeing everyone in and out of practice. I’ve been discouraged by it at times, but overall the team’s training and focus has been amazing to see.”
Though COVID-19 continues to change the face of sports and campus life at Hope, athletic excellence is still in high supply. Sophomores Nick Hoffman and Ana Tucker have been honored by the United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association as men’s and women’s Indoor Track athletes of the week for NCAA Division III. Earlier this week Hoffman broke a Hope Track and Field record at the GVSU Mike Lints Alumni Open after running a 4:12.57 in the indoor mile. Hoffman is the first male Hope athlete to be recognized for this award, while Tucker becomes the second female and the first to do so twice from Hope.
Despite all of the difficulties, wellness and athletics at Hope remain alive and well. Hope College is proving that winter weather and an ongoing pandemic are temporary roadblocks and not the end as students continue to keep hope.