By Taylor Viles and LJ VP LaFiura – Sports Editor and 1851 Contributor
The participation in athletic events at Lasell has been layered in uncertainty over the last year, there’s no denying that. Each time Director of Athletics Kristy Walter thinks she’s close to a successful plan, it’s thrown away and she’s left to start over.
Two seasons have been canceled, but Walter and the rest of the Athletic Department are doing everything they can to support, allow and create guidelines for safe collegiate play. With this Spring comes hope, as unlike the last two seasons, a date to begin competition has been announced. Teams can begin scheduling games for, on or after March 15. Practices have been ongoing since February 5.
However, the situation continues to be fluid. “Whatever I tell you today might not be the same in a week,” she said, prefacing her interview with The 1851 Chronicle.
It has been the same feeling during almost all our interviews with Walter over the past year as pieces continue to move, making a final plan near impossible to create or predict. The expectation was for games to be within the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC), but this may not be the case.
On President’s Day, the highly anticipated meeting between the presidents of every GNAC school took place. The discussion was meant to determine the likelihood of conference competition this spring, as well as set rules for schools to follow. No decision was made, leaving GNAC athletic directors, such as Walter, responsible for creating their own plan. Another meeting between the presidents was rescheduled for early March, but there is no guarantee an agreement will come out of it.
“We are trying to have competition,” said Walter. However, with the GNAC’s lack of decision-making, it will likely feature other Division III schools within an hour of Lasell. But, it’s agreeing on a game plan that continues to present difficulty.
“I’ve talked to a lot of coaches and we’re honestly in a better situation than most,” said baseball head coach Bill Uberti. Other programs don’t entirely follow the same strict health protocols Lasell enforces, such as testing schedules and general cleaning procedures according to Walter, but these schools’ regulations must be made parallel with Lasell’s protocols in order to play.
Although it might seem like the Athletic Department isn’t allowing much leeway in creating a plan, Walter only has one priority on her mind. “We’re trying to keep the campus safe,” she said.
Wearing masks is at the center of all return-to-play policies and social distancing on the bench, when possible, is required. Opposing teams will be asked to come fully dressed in game uniforms for the match. Teams have been wearing masks since practices began, which should help them adjust to restricted breathing during the season.
Lasell also puts an emphasis on cleanliness. Even in sports that are socially distanced by nature, such as baseball and softball, new ways to ensure safety have been introduced.
“We’re doing the same thing for each [location]. [For example,] wiping off the baseball bats…and there’s no sharing of helmets. Each sport has been modified or their equipment’s been modified,” said Walter. Additionally, no back-to-back games will occur at the same location this season to allow for cleaning to occur. Unfortunately, fans will not be allowed to attend games this Spring, however, the Athletic Department plans to live stream every contest. The streams will be found on the Laser Pride website.
Even with these rigorous protocols and testing procedures, teams are not immune to contracting COVID-19. When teams are together constantly, moving locations, and in contact with other schools, an outbreak may occur. The only way to manage this is on a case-by-case basis.
According to Walter, if it is an isolated case or the outbreak was started without negligence, a team shutdown can be avoided. However, if an outbreak occurs, and teams are not following the protocols, the team may be shut down without games or practices for a week or longer to prevent an on-campus spread. The only scenario to affect the entire athletic program would be an outbreak over multiple teams.
Although Walter and her team are working on other ways to allow her student-athletes to compete, the athletic directors for GNAC schools continue to meet weekly in hopes of having conference play.
“We meet every week on Wednesday mornings and we try to come up with plans and guidelines,” said Walter. “But we’re really far apart in terms of testing protocols, travel guidelines, [and] officials… We’re trying to do something via the GNAC, but I’m not sure how it’s going to look.”