Section: Sports

Kenyon first-year athletes struggle to adapt to life off the Hill

Kenyon first-year athletes struggle to adapt to life off the Hill

The Kenyon Lords baseball team will make its spring debut with only one first-year player on the roster. | COURTESY OF KENYON ATHLETICS

Being a first year at Kenyon College is challenging.  Add being a student-athlete to the mix — in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic which has upended collegiate sports — and the situation becomes even more dire.

The class of 2024 missed prom, graduation and, most importantly to athletes, a conclusion to their senior seasons. After arriving on the Hill, first years only had one semester at Kenyon before the College announced that a majority of the class of 2024 would be studying remotely this spring, while sophomores, juniors and seniors would be invited back to the Hill. 

Living away from campus has been difficult for first years, and many have struggled to adjust to remote learning. “Learning virtually is not anywhere close to the beneficial experience the students in the classroom are having and it’s something that I have to push through every day,” Lords lacrosse player Chase MacCartee ’24 said.

Most first-year athletes are keeping in touch with their fellow underclass teammates, but it has been hard to connect with their junior and senior teammates, who have not overlapped with them on the Hill. “I haven’t talked to [upperclass students] unless it’s been in a very, very team setting like a team meeting,” Lords swimmer Noah Hargrove ’24 said. 

Sports often provide students with an important distraction from their daily challenges. “I usually rely on the physical nature of athletics to give my mind a break from the monotony of a typical school day, and not having that break in my day has decreased my willingness to sit through schoolwork for many hours each day,” Lords lacrosse player Jack McClellan ’24 said. “Consequently, school has become even more of a chore than it was in the past.”

Many athletes often think about their teammates not being present when they eat lunch, a team bonding activity they have grown accustomed to. “We would gush over the taste of the Peirce omelets and eat them very quickly,” Ladies lacrosse player Maren Helmacy ’24 said. 

First years have been keeping up with their teammates in a variety of ways. Team group chats are their most common form of communication. Athletes also do homework together over FaceTime or simply chat about Kenyon intercollegiate games and share workouts.

To be closer with teammates, some remote student-athletes have decided to move in together off campus. However, with roster sizes varying among teams, the opportunity for all first-year athletes to live together are significantly limited. For example, softball only has one first-year student-athlete on the team, Maddie Friday ’24.  The team is doing a March Madness bracket pool and a fantasy baseball league to stay connected, Friday said. However, she acknowledged the challenges inherent in the physical separation from her teammates. 

Field hockey, on the other hand, has six out of seven first years back on campus, making it easier for them to keep in contact with their teammates. “We mainly bond at practice, get food together and just hang out in general,” Sonia Bharatiya ’24 said. 

For first-year athletes on campus, it feels weird to be at Kenyon without their first-year teammates, while they interact with their upperclass teammates who were not on campus last semester. Ladies lacrosse player Alex Tiatia ’24 misses her first-year teammates greatly. “There is definitely a sense of jealousy for other teams who have their whole [first-year] class back,” Tiatia said. 

As first years on campus gear up for the spring season, those off the Hill are experiencing mixed emotions. They are certainly happy that their teammates, and especially seniors, will get to play, but there is a feeling of loss, too: this will be their second straight season away from the sport they love. “I have played lacrosse every spring season for six years, and for it to suddenly not be there anymore is not something I have fully comprehended yet,” Helmacy said. 

Lords baseball player Ben Nash ’24 notes that this “season will be difficult to watch without being there for my teammates, especially as Kenyon welcomes students of other institutions on their campus and into their athletic facilities, even while the whole student body cannot reside on campus.”

First years wish they could return to campus and enjoy the college experience that they heard about while going through the recruiting and admissions process. “Being on campus would mean less Zoom, friends a walk away and the chance to practice with the team,” McClellan said. “It’s been way too long since I’ve had the chance to play and I am itching to get on the field.”

First years are looking forward to next year,  hoping it will serve as a return to normalcy. Sam Thompson ’24 is eager to experience a normal campus life at Kenyon. “I’m ready for concerts, frisbee in front of Peirce and touching the pillar as I walk down Middle Path,” he said. 

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