by Anna Kubiak
November 20, 2020
On March 13th the NJCAA announced the immediate suspension of all spring competition in response to the rapidly rising rate of COVID-19 transmissions. The news came in the midst of the league’s annual championship tournament and resulted in its swift cancellation for the safety of everyone involved. The teams present, including swimming, baseball, softball, and lacrosse, were sent home with no clear plan for the future. In the wake of this unexpected change of direction, the GCC Athletics Department was left with the uncertain task of conducting their programs in the ever-changing age of COVID-19.
GCC athletes have been sidelined since that consequential date in March. Fall sports that have been deemed moderate to high risk, such as basketball and lacrosse, have been pushed to the spring with practices beginning on a hopeful start of February 1st, though the date remains open to change in the interest of ensuring a safe return. In anticipation of the date sports can return with full vigor, GCC introduced a novel approach to keeping everyone safe while still encouraging the opportunities for growth they hope to offer their student athletes. Engineered for maximum well-being, GCC teams have been permitted to practice under a system called tiered reintegration, which allows six team members to participate in a practice at a time. Each practice, a new team of six is shuffled to take part. In addition to this new practice format, every two weeks teams are also subjected to pool testing, a form of COVID-19 testing that uses saliva to test multiple people at a time by combining their saliva before testing it for the virus.
During the off season, the GCC Athletics staff has been proactive in protecting their current athletes as well as the future of those hoping to join the program. In response to the unpredicted cancelling, a waiver was created allowing the student athletes who participated in the spring sports that were postponed to be able to maintain that year’s eligibility. This means that players will have an opportunity to make a return to the championship tournament they were unable to complete due to COVID-19. In addition to the student athletes returning to GCC teams, the Athletics Department has been able to recruit in anticipation for the upcoming seasons.
As GCC continues to navigate the new set of challenges, they remain optimistic about the continued support and commitment of their surrounding community of staff, students, and student athletes. Athletics Director Kristen Schuth stresses the importance of keeping student athletes engaged during this off period. From the staff to the players to the fans, GCC Athletics makes a collaborative effort to build a community throughout the school. Athletics Director Schuth wants the incoming athletes to feel welcomed into the existing comradery and create an arrangement that allows them to share the same excitement of joining GCC Athletics regardless of the unfortunate circumstances. She hopes that this inclusion and connection will help keep players involved in their teams and prepared for the day they can return to the sports they love.
While the future still remains at the whim of COVID-19, the entire athletic administration is working diligently to bring GCC sports back up to speed and looking forward to bright new opportunities for their athletes. Assistant Athletics Director Andrew Crofts hopes that the implementation of certain precautions such as staggering start dates, proper sanitation of equipment and other surfaces, social distancing when possible, and mask wearing will help keep all participants in the safest situation possible. Mr. Crofts affirms that the number one priority of the GCC Athletics Department from day one has always been the “health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff.” Mr. Crofts hopes this end can be achieved by following the direction of local and state guidelines on and off the field/court. By abiding by these guidelines, the GCC Athletics Department is confident that the quickly approaching spring season will be a successful one.
Some factors remain in discussion. These talks include the debate around issues such as the procedure for a COVID outbreak, the mask wearing requirements for athletes, and whether fans will be allowed during games. Athletics Director Schuth calls the “moving pieces every day” the “hardest part” of planning GCC sports around the coronavirus. Staying on top of COVID news as well as work revolving around planning the sports seasons can be demanding, however, with passion for the program and commitment to the student athletes, the GCC Athletics staff is working hard to bring their sports teams back to full capacity. Regardless of the challenges they are facing the cooperative group of student athletes, coaches, and staff are dedicated to the idea of returning to sports as soon and as safely as possible.
As we await the return of GCC sports there are professional sports teams in the area
whose competitions can hold us over. For instance, the Buffalo Bills football team has performed above expectations during the beginning of their season. Led by Josh Allen, the team is working tirelessly to raise the spirits of their community through their efforts on the field. The Buffalo Bills commitment to the NFL’s COVID-19 precautions has allowed them to proceed with this successful season and stands as an inspiration for the aspirations of GCC Athletics, that if we continue to prioritize the health of those around us, sports programs will once again have the opportunity to be a part of our lives.