Managing athletics amid a pandemic

Senior+Anna+Erskine+plays+for+the+school%27s+varsity+lacrosse+team.+Erskine+recently+committed+to+Rhodes+College+to+play+Division+III+lacrosse.+

Photo courtesy of Anna Erskine '21

Senior Anna Erskine plays for the school’s varsity lacrosse team. Erskine recently committed to Rhodes College to play Division III lacrosse.

All of the world has watched their favorite sports teams struggle along with them through the COVID-19 pandemic. The next several months will determine the school seniors’ futures in their respective sports, being tested regularly and training vigorously in hopes of maintaining their speed, strength and agility.

Though they’re limited to conditioning without contact until instructed otherwise, students exploring athletic scholarships, or even vocation in the industry, must now work twice as hard to be noticed by division colleges.

“What [COVID] has impacted is [athletes’] ability to play in the fall, and then use those films and performances for recruitment,” varsity football coach Josh Shapiro said.

Division schools are the colleges with the most funding and resources for their players, therefore, they’re the most competitive. These colleges, such as Harvard and Stanford University, are the most sought-after by athletes. The divisions range from 1-3, Division I being the highest and most coveted, and Division III being more difficult than the average college team, but receiving less recognition than Division I.

“They actively seek out the high schools around the country, the best players, and they’ll do that by speaking to coaches, players, high school players will go to football camps in the summer, and showcase their talent,” Shapiro said.

Senior Anna Erskine committed to Rhodes College, a school with a Division III lacrosse center. Erskine, who has been active in the sport since the fifth grade, recalled that she chose Rhodes because she felt she had a bright future academically, rather than athletically. Although she enjoys lacrosse, she has no definitive plans to pursue a career in the field.

“I was still deciding between Division I and Division III; I just wanted to end up somewhere I knew I would be happy,” Erskine said. “The coach at Rhodes really emphasizes studying abroad and doing things outside of lacrosse to make sure you’re well-rounded and well-prepared for life outside of college.”

Erskine decided to attend Rhodes after a visit to the campus and surrounding city of Memphis, Tenn. She was recruited in November of 2019 after a scout had seen her play in Florida and was offered a tour the following February. Though Erskine has access to a personal trainer and participates in the club version of her sport, she feels lucky to have been recruited last year. At the time, the virus was virtually non-existent in the area, and Erskine was comfortable with the season’s plans moving forward. 

“Honestly, the biggest part was probably the coach and how supportive and amazing she was throughout the whole process, and still is now,” Erskine said.

Though the process was well-timed for Erskine, there was an almost immediate change of pace for the remainder of the season. When the virus caused schools – and sports along with them – to close, games and practices were cancelled. Recruitment came to halt, visitors were limited and restrictions prevented  scouts from contacting athletes.

“[College] coaches from far away couldn’t come to see us play anymore, it was more just Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania,” Erskine said.

Alternatively, senior Christian Stackpole has yet to commit to a division school for basketball, which he aspires to play professionally in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Though undecided, Stackpole values the game more than the school. He does, however, hope to attend school near his family in Kentucky, as he has moved around the United States and wants a more stable collegiate environment.

“I wouldn’t mind playing Division II or Division III, I just honestly want to play basketball in college,” Stackpole said.

During COVID-19, Stackpole believes many players became susceptible to sedentary behaviors. Stackpole, however, has used this quarantine to improve his skills, even without the proper equipment from gyms and the school. He maintains a healthy work-out routine by exercising with teammates and friends while taking all the proper COVID-19 precautions.

“For basketball season this year, I expect that the competition won’t be as strong,” Stackpole said. “[COVID-19] definitely will affect everybody, depending on who had their minds set on basketball and actually went out there and tried to get better.”

Whether they have committed to a college, or have yet to decide, one thing is clear: this season will be unique and far more challenging than its predecessors. Some prospective athletes are working harder now than ever before, but must do so at a safe distance and location.

“I was able to work on my craft,” Stackpole said. “Getting better, faster, [and] stronger. With all of the time, I tried not to waste much more.”