How Newman is handling suspension of fall sports

By Tejay Cleland, Sports Editor

Newman’s fall athletes learned before school started that their seasons would be suspended until at least Jan. 1, and that they wouldn’t be playing during the fall because of safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

And although that news was disheartening, especially for seniors, some athletes say they know it could have been worse. Among them is Reagan Roth, who’s practicing but so far not playing her senior volleyball season.

“[My teammates and I] are just trying to stay positive and stay hopeful that we get to play this spring,” she said. “Having our season postponed to January gives us time to bond and grow as a team, which could be very beneficial to us. Every moment we get in the gym, we’re going to take advantage of and make the most of it.”

On Aug. 14, the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Conference in which Newman competes announced it was suspending all fall competition. The conference is still exploring the possibility of competition in the spring, but fall sports will be suspended until at least Jan. 1.

Roth said the situation left her feeling helpless.

“It was really hard hearing that our season was getting suspended, especially being a senior and this being my last year to play,” Roth said. “Knowing that at any moment my senior year of volleyball can be canceled is really scary and sad to think about.”

The MIAA also announced that activities such as practices, weight training, meetings and voluntary workouts would be allowed during the fall.

Newman Athletic Director Joanna Pryor said that NCAA rules mandated that if conferences decided to compete, they would be required to test players extensively.

“If there is outside competition, we are required to do extensive testing that can be very costly and difficult to obtain for the institutions,” she said.

Newman allowed only team meetings during the first week of school. This week and next week, it is allowing fall athletes to practice but only in groups of 10 or fewer.

“This will reduce the risk of contamination and exposure,” Pryor said.

Practices and workouts will not look like typical practices and workouts, though, she said. Even in groups of 10 or fewer, other precautions will be implemented. For example, face coverings will be required during weight training.

Newman strength and conditioning coach Stryder Blackburn said athletes will take other precautions, too.

“In addition to the daily questionnaire that all Newman students should be filling out, we will be taking and recording temperatures upon entering the facility,” he said. “Athletes will be instructed to wash hands before and after sessions.”

Blackburn also said the disinfecting frequency of the weight room will be increased this year. Shared equipment will now need to be wiped after every use. Social distancing will also be required, and athletes will be kept in training groups with their suitemates or roommates.

The weight room will also not be open to all Newman students as it has been in the past.

“At this time, to protect the health and safety of our student athletes, the weight room will [be] restricted for student-athletes only,” Blackburn said. “This will include only team sessions and individual sessions scheduled with a coach. We have to take all precautions we can to limit the risk of exposure.”

Blackburn said he knows that the situation is not normal, but is optimistic that it can work.

“Masks and physical distancing are obviously not ideal for training, but they are more than feasible for us to help protect our student-athletes,” he said.

Pryor said she knows how important it is to Newman athletes that they eventually get to play, and being serious about safety is the best way to make that happen.

“We want to do everything we can in order to play winter sports, spring sports and fall sports in the spring,” she said.

PHOTO: Courtesy Photo, Newman Athletics