Student-athletes are restless just one week into class on the Hill. Months after the pandemic ended life on campus as students have known it, Kenyon’s varsity athletes are only days away from a phased return to competition.
Kenyon is following the NCAA’s guidance on returning to sports. The guidelines, which Kenyon must adapt to fit their needs, consist of a three-phase approach with the goal of returning to normal competition by the start of the spring semester. “We only have one shot to do this right, and we want to do everything we can to ensure that we can be here in the spring,” said Director of Athletics Jill McCartney. The athletics department will make assessments of the health and safety of Kenyon’s athletic community twice a month. In each phase, if the College continues to limit exposure to COVID-19, athletics will advance into the next phase.
Phase I allows coaches to structure workouts if requested, but they are not allowed to coach athletes. However, group workouts of 10 or fewer athletes are permitted, but athletes must stay six feet apart while training. During this phase, these small groups must be kept together for most athletic activities. This phase also entails minimal use of the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC) and no shared equipment. On top of that, the College expects that athletes wear masks in the KAC unless they are actively working out. Locker rooms will be available at all times, as practice times will be staggered to limit numbers. Athletes must also wear masks in locker rooms except when showering. Lockers will be spaced out to limit close contact between athletes. The KAC laundry system for athletes has also been reconstructed to fit sanitation necessities.
For Kenyon athletes, even this small step towards returning to play is momentous. “The reality is, a number of our student-athletes have not practiced since March,” Director of Athletics Jill McCartney said of the phasing plan, especially for our first years, acclimating to college is overwhelming. So we want to phase in gradually to allow students time to adjust.”
Phase II of the NCAA’s protocol allows coaches to begin interacting with athletes. It also allows for groups of 10 to engage in workouts together, though they would still remain with their original core group for drills. In this phase, social distancing is still mandated when possible and the use of the KAC remains limited. Some equipment may be shared among individuals and groups, but it must be cleaned properly before and after each use. Mask and locker room directives remain the same. For runners, golfers, swimmers and other individual sports, play is allowed to begin.
Finn Murray ’23, a quarterback on the Lords’ football team, is trying to stay focused on the benefits of limited play. “I’m most looking forward to building on the relationships with my teammates on campus,” he said.
However, Murray expressed concerns about how practices will function with smaller groups. “It’s definitely not the same as being able to compete against other colleges, but it will help us greatly when we are finally able to do so,” he said.
Danielle “D.J.” Taylor ’23, a member of the Ladies volleyball team, feels similarly. With only nine players on campus, the team will be limited in how they can practice. “We will likely be doing a lot of three-versus-three work once it is permitted,” said Taylor.
For early Phase III of the NCAA’s guidelines, student-athletes in sports that involve offense vs. defense setups may begin to practice with other small groups on the opposing side of the ball. Otherwise, there is no change to the small-group workout protocols. After at least a week, the groups may begin to practice together as a full team.
In general, Kenyon-specific suggestions also include limiting the number of practices to a maximum of five days per week due to the “additional academic stress” of returning to a regular schedule. It is also suggested that any training or team work done over the weekend be limited to “team-led, Kenyon Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (KSAAC), or ‘fun’ activities.”
A return to normal competition will not happen until later in Phase III for team sports, so student-athletes and coaches must figure out how to stay properly prepared.
“Coaches are really being challenged to brainstorm new ways to make things competitive,” McCartney says. “Whether it’s making drills competitive and keeping running statistics or something else, it’s going to be a challenge. But being competitive is something essential to us, so we have to find ways to adapt.”
Sofia Rehrig ’23 says that the Ladies’ soccer team is also anticipating a return to play, despite the possibility that teammates are on different training levels due to the pandemic.
“Even though there are no games this season, I don’t think that we will have any problems keeping practices competitive and up to where we want them to be,” said Rehrig. “Everyone on campus is really grateful to be here and have the opportunity to practice, so we’re all going to be giving every practice 100 percent.”
For additional information on Kenyon’s return to play protocols, visit here and explore the “Keeping our Kenyon Community Safe” tab as well as the associate “FAQ” page.