Lauren Lucy Caddell ‘23
With the return of a semblance of normalcy this month across the Close comes the return of school sports, back in full force for the fourth quarter. Both the ISL and IAC sports leagues are now allowing inter-school competitions with certain restrictions. Is the return to competitive sports safe?
With the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, most sports followed the example of the leagues’ relaxed guidelines and returned to their normal operations even if it means wearing masks and social distancing during the practices and games. The ISL girls’ league, especially, has been strict in its mask mandate for competitions and practices. Although the IAC, in which STA takes part, has more relaxed mask rules, practices still do not feel normal yet. For example, participants in fall cross country meets were spaced out to allow for safe distancing, which made the races much more individualized. “The main issue with long distance running this year is that one’s teammates motivate one to push himself much harder than he would by himself; thus most people are training a little less rigorously and not reaching their full potential,” STA sophomore John Rhee pointed out. “Also, the meets are smaller which makes them seem less competitive – not to mention it makes pacing more difficult.”
It’s not just cross country that suffered changes to their normal routine – almost every sport had to revise its approach at least slightly, some in more drastic ways than others. The NCS crew team normally practices on the Potomac River in the afternoons, sharing their boathouse with several other schools. But this year, due to each team needing the boathouse to themselves, NCS crew practices start at 5:30 in the morning. The early hour discouraged many rowers, but after several days of settling in, the advantages of early practice were made clear. At first it was a struggle to imagine waking up so early, but now, Makenzie Reilly ‘23 realizes, “By the time school starts I can already say I have completed a two-hour workout and it’s a such a relieving feeling knowing that you have already been so productive at 7:30 in the morning. I also feel much less stressed getting school work done because I now have more time to finish it in the afternoon.”
It’s clear, however, that we aren’t quite back to normal yet. Cross country runners were recently disappointed when their preseason camp in Vermont, a long-standing tradition, was cancelled for the second year in a row due to a Close-wide ban on off-grounds camps for the fall. For many runners, the camp is one of the highlights of the autumn season, and its removal at first confused many runners upset that the schools were being careful so far in advance. But aspects of normal continue to trickle back, slowly but surely, as the schools re-integrate. Even without preseason camp, cross-country meets will most likely return to normal next school year, and some kind of preseason will occur for almost every fall sport that normally has one.
It’s not only the crew team where a COVID-19 adjustment has improved the team’s mindset. Even with the changes in competition restrictions and scheduling, the response to the lengthening of practices and the return of the competitive aspect of school sports has been overwhelmingly positive. Sports have long been a foundation of life on the Close, and having it every day helps boost the sense of normalcy that has been missing on campus for so long.