On March 13, 2020 when Christ Church Episcopal School announced it was moving to digital learning as a precaution against the then unknown virus that is COVID-19, not many could have predicted digital learning days would extend through the end of the school year. Spring student-athletes held onto the hope that their seasons would restart again soon, but eventually the South Carolina High School League (SCHSL) made the decision to shut them down for good. When the athletics world reopened this summer, our teams started to ease back into training. However, things looked quite different. And yet despite having to adhere to strict new protocols, there was no grumbling or complaining. Instead, our athletes and coaches returned to sports with excitement and an overwhelming sense of gratitude.
Four senior athletes who play both spring and fall sports have shared a little bit about their experiences this spring and how that shaped their approach to their fall seasons. Avery Nuckolls (lacrosse and tennis) recalls being “completely caught off guard” when the season was halted in the spring and really “did not think it was actually going to be cancelled.” Others, like AnnaLaird Crosswell (soccer and cross-country) who found out her soccer match was cancelled on the same day school closed, felt less optimistic. She says she just “knew the rest of the season would be cancelled” and recalls being “very upset in their team meeting that afternoon.” Helen Baginski (lacrosse and field hockey) described her reaction as being “completely heartbroken” but didn’t see how there was any other option for the SCHSL at that point. Upon learning that the spring season was officially cancelled, Locke Swent (soccer and football) shifted his focus to his senior year and the uncertainty of what it might look like. He has been playing football since 7th grade and soccer his whole life, and was “really disappointed with the idea of not being able to play” his senior seasons. He says, “I felt like everything was building to this year, and it was falling apart.”
The coaches were equally disappointed, but their hearts were heavy in a different way. They had to mourn personally, break the news to their teams and watch their seniors be crushed with the reality that their high school careers were over in the blink of an eye with no warning. For Molly Miller, Athletic Director and the Head Coach of Varsity Girls Lacrosse, it was a “challenge to adequately put into words the wide range of emotions felt during the 2020 spring season.” She was left “heartbroken” when she had to “look into the eyes (via video conference) of her seniors, and eventually the entire team” and tell them the devastating news of their season being cancelled. Coaches were forced to walk a hard balance of grieving with their players, but also encouraging them to stay positive.
As the spring continued, most athletes tried to train on their own but found themselves missing their teams. Locke noted that “practicing by myself was just not the same as being together with everyone else.” Avery also missed being with her team, as well as experiencing the intensity of practice and games, which is nearly impossible to recreate while training on your own. Helen missed the “collaborative effort within the team” but still pushed herself during home workouts, motivated by the hope that if the season did resume, she wanted to be ready for her team to count on her.
As spring changed to summer, Miller and the athletic department shifted their focus to the “Return to Play” process, and began putting in place many mitigation measures necessary for campus to safely reopen for training. They focused on what they could control, and Miller likened preparing for the safe return to athletics to “preparing for their most important ‘championship’ ever.”
As teams slowly began to come back to campus and adjust to the new protocols, it certainly was not easy. Avery notes that the “tennis team is very close” and “not being able to huddle under the tennis hut or sit on the benches together was hard to get used to” but they are slowly adjusting. Locke says that it was “annoying having to deal with all the small preventions” at first but that, even with those things in place, it is “ten times better than being home” by himself. For Helen and the field hockey team, it was hard to not be able to use their sticks right away, but they shifted their focus to conditioning, and as a result, their team was “more prepared and fit at the start of the season.”
At the end of the day, even with the hard adjustments and the longing for how it used to be, these student-athletes are simply just thrilled to be here on campus and playing the sports they love. In addition, the experience has caused them to shift their perspectives and attitudes. AnnaLaird shares: “Because our spring season was cancelled, I do not take for granted a day of practice for cross country” and that she is “happy to be back and practicing” even with new and sometimes challenging protocols. For Helen, the cancelled spring season has made her “more focused and motivated” for field hockey seasons. She says she is “grateful for every moment on the field” and wants “to use and enjoy every practice and game” that she is able to play. Locke notes that this spring showed him “how fast he can lose things” and that he has learned to cherish these things that are so important to him. Avery reflects that although things are different, missing out on lacrosse has made her so thankful for this tennis season. She is learning to “make the most of it and not complain” because everything they are having to do is “worth it” if it means being able to play.
No one could have imagined that this is where our world would be, but these athletes and coaches are making the very best out of a challenging situation, viewing each day they can practice and compete as a gift. The Cavs currently have ten varsity sports in action and Miller credits our families, coaches, student-athletes, and the CCES Senior Leadership Team for making it possible to be where we are now. Everyone involved has shown the Cavalier mindset as they have navigated new protocols, gotten creative with designing workouts, bought into the process, and shown a new appreciation for what it means to be a Cavalier. No matter what happens, this community will continue to grow, learn, adapt and keep moving forward as Cavs united!