With SUNY Oneonta completing its spring academic semester Wednesday, May 6*, the coaches in the athletic department closed a semester devoid of full spring seasons, but nonetheless busier than a typical spring.
When the season was suddenly canceled after the NCAA called off its spring championships March 12 due to concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak, the Red Dragon coaches saw the support and counsel parts of their jobs take greater prevalence than usual.
“It’s definitely been the most challenging spring,” O-State head baseball coach Ben Grimm told The Daily Star. “Our assistant coach Colt Beatty asked me during one of our last games that if I coached a thousand years if I ever expected to see this, and I said, ‘no.’”
O-State head track and field coach Chris Wilber was at the national indoor track and field championships with junior thrower Norberto Cervantes when the NCAA’s announcement came down. The decision robbed Cervantes of his first chance to compete at the national meet, but also erased a full spring season for the rest of the roster.
“It still hurts because for some of them, even if they had a winter season, some of them prefer the outdoor events more,” Wilber said. “And for some of them that didn’t have the best indoor season, they lost that chance to have some redemption during the outdoor season. Regardless of the sport, I think it hurts.”
Grimm’s team was in Florida, beginning the season with a slate of games during spring break, when the cancellation became public. While the team was able to play one game against Rhodes Colleges each day, Friday, March 13, and Saturday, March 14, to finish the trip, Grimm nonetheless called the team meeting regarding the cancellation “the hardest conversation he’d ever had with the team.”
And so the focus changed from X’s and O’s to A’s, B’s and (hopefully not) C’s.
“It’s been crazy. Wrapping my mind around it all, it’s crazy for it to be ‘go go go’ to it all just stopping,” O-State head women’s lacrosse coach Brandi Lusk said of her team’s truncated season, which ended with a 3-2 record. “We just kind of decided to take all that energy and put it into academics.”
With the SUNY system transitioning to distance learning March 19, providing support for student-athletes often meant videoconferences, and lots of them. Individual calls, small groups and whole teams got together, virtually, as coaches sought structure for their teams.
While spring sports bore the most direct disruption from the pandemic, Red Dragons’ field hockey coach Kelly Kingsbury** said athletes across seasons had their schedules interrupted, with her team missing out on its spring practice weeks.
“You have to get out there and touch base with them and just check on them,” Kingsbury said. “They’re so used to the norm; getting up, going to a lift, going to class, seeing my teammates multiple times a day. None of that is happening. You’re not just taking their sport away, you’re taking their normal away.”
The abandoned season of course creates several issues pertaining to competition. For spring sports, 2021 will likely see a crop of seniors that most recently played a full season as sophomores. For fall and winter sports, spring and summer preparations will have been disrupted.
Head women’s basketball coach Daphne Thompson highlighted that the pandemic has changed the way coaches recruit, particularly for classes that will arrive as freshmen in fall 2021. But if the coronavirus has taken away opportunities to train and perform, it has also provided a chance to double down on team culture and work on a faint silver lining.
“The push has been stay connected, and help each other understand how to be best in the class,” Thompson said. “Our main focus is to finish strong because we have plenty of time to get ready for next season.”
For Thompson and her team, this has meant additional efforts regarding jobs and professional development, film study and remodeling the team’s summer fundraising camp.
Lusk said she has worked to reach out into the community and make the area one to which students are excited to return. The program has highlighted essential workers connected to the program on social media, and Lusk said they have sent flowers to area nursing homes and maternity wards.
“We’ve just been really busy, just in much different ways. All the coaches, we offer so much value because we do things in so many different areas,” Lusk said. “Looking at resumes, team building, academic monitoring. We’re just stepping up the plate and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
With a trying semester in the books and plans being built for the future, Kingsbury said she hopes the adversity can become a teaching tool.
“I really think our student-athletes can learn a lot in the sense that you play every game like it’s your last and you do everything as hard as you can, and this really validates that,” Kingsbury said. “I hope that’s what they can learn from it in terms of bringing their passion for the game and work ethic to put everything into it because it can be taken from you at any moment.”
*changed at 7:19 a.m. May 8 to correct the date
** Changed at 12:48 p.m. May 8 to correct name.