Eight months into quarantine, 5C student-athletes weigh in a potential return to practice

Five CMS swimmers dive into swim lanes at a swim meet.
Currently, collegiate athletics is allowed in Los Angeles County. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

For nearly eight months, fields, pools, tracks, gyms and bleachers at the Claremont Colleges have sat empty. Some student-athletes say they’re beginning to feel the lack of a typical season — but most are wary about the possibility of returning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Currently, collegiate athletics is allowed, so long as athletic departments abide by state and county health guidances. And as of October, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps was “working in concert with the SCIAC institutions” in planning a potential return to practice and competition.

As colleges across the country return to sports, student-athletes in some schools are testing positive for COVID-19, raising questions about the safety of returning. However, some schools have continued play with minimal transmission, even in sports with a “high-risk” of infection.

While many athletes have been staying in shape at home and staying in touch over Zoom, some are still unsure if they feel comfortable playing if athletics return.

Our team is really big on feeding off of each other’s energy. We always push each other, whether it is in the weight room or on the court; cheering each other on and hyping each other up.”  — Kellie Okamura SC ‘22

CMS women’s basketball player Kellie Okamura SC ’22 said via email that with being off campus and off the court, finding athletic motivation is a “huge obstacle.” 

“Our team is really big on feeding off of each other’s energy,” Okamura said. “We always push each other, whether it is in the weight room or on the court.”

However, Okamura is hesitant about potentially returning. Even with safety precautions, Okamura knows outbreaks have been traced back to athletics regardless. “I am not sure how confident I am in those safety guidelines,” she said.

High-contact sports like basketball would make it easy for the virus to spread, and being a small consortium wouldn’t help either, Okamura added. 

“If one person gets it, there will be an outbreak since our schools are very tight-knit,” Okamura said.

Other upperclassmen at the 5Cs also have a similar mindset. Dylan Madden PZ ’21, a sprinter on the Pomona-Pitzer track and field team, knows his role for the first-years is “to lead by example,” which keeps him running.

But even though Madden is keeping up with his conditioning, he’s unsure how comfortable he’d feel returning to a full SCIAC competitive season.

Madden said he and his coaches have considered playing in intercollegiate competitions against CMS, but “that’s about it.”

“I think it would not be a great idea to be leaving campus, especially because men’s [and] women’s teams combined, we have about 100 members,” he said. “So you’d have [a] whole traveling squad.”

Madden also recognized that many of his student-athlete friends at the 5Cs just “aren’t coming to play professionally, and a lot of people just come to play sports that they love.”

While he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to return to a full SCIAC season, he believes still practicing sports would be a “great resource to have” — but one that should start at least a month after students return to campus to prevent immediate outbreaks.

P-P pole vaulter Elliot Raskin PZ ’23 said he is “not training to the same degree” and formality as in the spring, calling it “impossible” without campus facilities. To Raskin, a return to P-Pturf — safely — is a possibility. 

“I think track, and specifically pole vaulting, is very safe,” he said “I think maybe some of the other sports would need to be reviewed and approved to be played … If we’re at school, I don’t see the track really adding that much risk.” 

Raskin added that he wasn’t sure about the safety of team travel off campus but feels comfortable about practices and wants to come back to P-P when he can.

“I fully intend to keep playing and competing,” Raskin said. “I think me not doing it right now and me having some distance has really shown me how important it is to me [and] how much joy I get out of it.”

I think I’ve really been able to appreciate the experience more. And I think, I think that’s true for for college generally.” — Elliot Raskin PZ ‘22/23

P-P golfer Ryan Ruaysungnoen PO ’24 has been able to continue practicing while socially distanced. In the spring, he practiced with a net in his backyard and was able to return to his usual practice routines once golf courses reopened. More than six months into quarantine, he’s confident he’ll be swinging a golf club for P-P again. 

“If sports returned, I would be very excited to play again. With correct measures in place, I would also feel very comfortable playing sports again, and I think such goals can be reached,” he said via email.

But even for sports that are heavier on physical contact, many first-years are excited about the possibility of playing sports, having never gotten the chance to experience playing a season in college. 

Catherine Murphy CM ’24, who will play lacrosse for CMS, is motivated to continue doing stick work and working out because “you don’t want to let your teammates down. And that, to me, keeps me going, even though I don’t know my teammates yet,” she said.

Murphy would feel comfortable returning and understands lacrosse is high contact and therefore a high-risk sport but has faith in her athletic department to mitigate virus transmission.

“CMS athletics and Claremont McKenna would not send us to play a sport if they didn’t think it was safe. And I trust them with their ability to make that decision. So if they say it’s okay, then I’m totally comfortable playing,” she said.

Even if athletes are unable to travel to compete, Murphy believes, like Madden, that scrimmages or practices would be useful for athletes, both for physical conditioning and mental health.

“I realize how much I depended on lacrosse for my physical, emotional and mental well-being. I’m relying on my teammates. I’m relying on my coaches. And I’m relying on myself to be better, [because] lacrosse is an outlet for stress [and] anxiety. 

“I didn’t realize that until it was taken away from me.”

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