Instead of lacing up their cleats for their first semester of college athletics, student-athletes are finding themselves on unknown turf — life without sports.
First-years at the Claremont Colleges are adjusting to a new form of Division III sports, trying to get the same experience online as they would on campus through team Zoom calls, virtual team bonding and other team-organized activities during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps football team is making up for their canceled season by following the same in-season meeting schedule they would have if they were in Claremont to learn “the groundwork” of the team, Walter Kuhlenkamp CM ’24 said.
The Stags still meet Mondays and Tuesdays for team check-ins and detailed playbook reviews and continue to take sports-specific classes later in the week to focus on the fundamentals of their positions, from Basics of the Offense to Football Analytics.
The Stags have also started up a weekly workout competition: athletes are divided up into small teams and earn points based on the number of workouts they film and upload during the week.
“It’s just been really great. One of the reasons I chose Pitzer was because I liked how interconnected the team seems to be. They were all super welcoming and really excited and trying to hype us first-years up, even though we’re all home and on Zoom” — Grace Jackson PZ ’24
“That’s been really a building experience for us. I think seeing everyone else workout, it kind of brings up a fire inside you. We’re all pushing each other and cheering each other on to be better,” Kuhlenkamp said.
On the other side of Sixth Street, the Pomona-Pitzer men’s cross-country team is making up for their canceled season by participating in teamwide time trials, Duncan Speirs PZ ’24 said. The Hens run in the events that they would have in the SCIAC and upload their times for the rest of the team to see. This allows the team to mimic their traditional season as much as possible during the pandemic, Speirs said.
“It definitely makes me excited to see how fast I am,” he said via message. “It’s especially interesting to see where I am compared to others on the team. Time trials are a really good way of showing me where I am as an athlete.”
And outside of organized team calls, athletes are also coming up with ways to have fun with their teammates without the coaches. For example, the first-years of CMS football have started a fantasy football league.
Some first-years, like Speirs, are also taking the opportunity to move in with their teammates, hoping to mimic the college experience they’re missing. Speirs and seven other first-years on the cross-country team are staying in Bend, Oregon, for the semester, where they’re exercising and running time trials together.
“I know that a lot of people really wanted to get out of their house,” Speirs said. “I’m from California, but now I’m experiencing at least a little bit of college somewhere. It was definitely student-driven, all of us really wanted to get out and it’s been really fun. All of us have been able to get really close to each other, cook and do everything together.”
“That’s been really a building experience for us. I think seeing everyone else workout, it kind of brings up a fire inside you. We’re all pushing each other and cheering each other on to be better” —Walter Kuhlenkamp CM ’24
One of the main appeals of college athletics is the built-in support system offered on campus, something many first-years feared wouldn’t be there during their first semester of online college. Coaches recognize the positive impact that team relationships have and are coming up with ways to still have these support systems, despite not meeting in person.
Grace Jackson PZ ’24 noted that the support systems in the P-P women’s lacrosse team are a focal point of team interaction this semester. Coaches set up mentor groups called Hen Houses — the team is divided into groups of four, one player from each graduating class, as a way for the players to have tight-knit relationships while living far apart.
“It’s just been really great. One of the reasons I chose Pitzer was because I liked how interconnected the team seems to be. They were all super welcoming and really excited and trying to hype us first-years up, even though we’re all home and on Zoom,” Jackson said. “I get funny little texts here and there with Hen-related stuff — every time I get something like that it makes me remember that I’m in college now, and it makes me feel a lot more connected.”
P-P men’s cross-country took a similar route, with each first-year being paired with an upperclassman to act as a mentor throughout their transition from high school to college.
“I asked [my mentor] a lot of questions concerning what classes I should register for and what orientation would look like. He was very helpful and that really impacted what I did later on. It’s been very beneficial so far,” Speirs said.
In a pandemic, athletic participation may seem implausible on its face. But, if anything, 5C first-year athletes have identified athletics as one of the threads keeping them tethered to college life.
“In my first-year seminar, we have a ton of athletes in there. When we talk to our non-athlete friends, it becomes pretty clear how lucky we were just to have a group that was reaching out to us and [being] a built-in support system,” Jackson said.
“It definitely made me feel really lucky, and I think I would be a lot more disconnected if I didn’t have my lacrosse team.”