Were fall sports safe at all this season?

by Jersey Patterson, Art Director

When I heard spring sports would be able to have a season, the first image that came to mind was a group of fifty 14-18-year-olds entering a gym to play volleyball during a pandemic. The thought is enough to make anyone wary. 

I certainly was wary during the tryouts for volleyball this 2021 season. It was jarring to see anyone at all but the sheer amount of people in the gym had me second guessing whether or not it was safe to play at all. The nervous energy present at every tryout was amplified by the thrum of anxiety pushing through all of us. 

I had forgotten the sound of squeaking shoes, the rush you get with a perfect set, the love for the sport and the people you play it with. There were new feelings too, ones I hadn’t associated with the game before. How impossible it felt to breathe through a mask, the fear of seeing huddles of people close together, the risk of playing at all. 

art by Ingrid Lid

I began to ask myself, was this really safe?

At the same time my teammates and I began our volleyball season, other spring sports were up and running too.  Football, swim, cross country, soccer and boys tennis. These sports are all done outside and from the livestreams and Instagram posts I had seen, seemed rather safe. 

I wish I could have felt the same way about volleyball. 

There is nothing I love more in this world than playing volleyball. It has been my love since before freshman year and I have been so grateful to have had a season at all this year. That being said, I don’t believe our season was safe. As the season wore on, we got complacent.

Water breaks transitioned from being outside to being inside, the doors to the gym were propped open some days and others not, our huddles were closer to six inches than six feet. 

About two weeks into our Covid-adjusted season our coach came to us saying we needed to “step up our game.” She wasn’t referring to our level of play, but rather our level of safety and following of protocols. Joanne Fukuma, the athletic director at Shorewood, had viewed one of our practices and seen our casual approach to these safety measures. Essentially, we got called out. 

After this reprimand our practices returned to how they were at the start of the season. Far apart and all together, a safe experience. This didn’t last for very long. After a few days, we once again returned to these less safe actions. I myself participated in these. 

Without the constant monitoring or enforcement of safety guidelines, our participation in volleyball this year was unsafe. When we became more relaxed in following these guidelines, it became less safe for us to be there.

The season has ended and no one got sick through it, but I can’t help but think, did we just get lucky? Was our continued health because of how strictly we followed the guidelines, or was it just chance? 

For sports to be safe there must be a continuous and strict following of safe practices, that wasn’t always the case for volleyball.