On Sep. 15, the Northwestern State University Athletics Department made the decision to pause five teams to help slow the spread of COVID-19. After a carefully paced return, the department returned to full operation after fall break.
Following the return of student-athletes after Hurricane Laura, Greg Burke, director of athletics, stated that he and the sports medicine staff noticed what they considered concerning and noticeable in the number of positive and contact-traced COVID-19 cases in their department.
“Our sport’s medicine staff, they do a report every day,” Burke said. “And initially I didn’t want to overreact, but we had an uptick over a four-day period.”
Teams that did not demonstrate an increase in cases were able to continue activities as normal.
“We just said hey let’s put the pause button,” Burke said. “Let’s put a pause on working out in the weight room and practices.”
When teams resumed, things moved slowly to ease student-athletes back into routine. Students returned with certain guard rails on what they were able to accomplish on top of the COVID-19 guidelines already in place in the department.
“We didn’t fully open back up,” Burke said. “We started seeing numbers going into a better direction and spoke to our teams and said hey let’s start getting back into it.”
Before fall break, Burke stated he looked proactively into preventing another increase in COVID-19 case numbers. He met with every sports teams, reminding them of the uptick in cases and to social distance, wear their masks and wash their hands.
“You can’t do what the athletes one year ago did on fall break,” Burke said he told the student-athletes. “You can, but you will risk yourself and your team.”
Burke stated coaches have been keeping things positive and stressing what students need to do and hopes that as the athletic director speaking with students will reemphasis the importance of caution.
Burke also feels that the silver lining in sports being played in the spring is that this interruption did not pull teams out of their competitive seasons.
“There’s a long list of schools that have had to cancel games,” Burke said. “My message for them [student-athletes] was when it comes time for us to play, I don’t want Northwestern State to be on this list.”
Cayla Jones, senior softball player, is a member of one of the teams that were quarantined.
“We’re spring sports so for us it was just more of a quick reality check,” Jones said. “Like let’s get this under control now so that we are able to play in the spring.”
Jones noted the many precautions the athletics department has put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19, including limiting the number of students who are able to attend study hall at one time.
“I think it was good that it happened then so we can move forward,” Jones said. “They are doing everything they can do.”
David Fitzwater, senior, football player feels grateful for the department’s decision.
“I think it was responsible,” Fitzwater said. “They definitely took the precautions they had to take.”
Fitzwater also spoke on the sport’s department protocols, stating that separate groups of only 15 people are allowed in the weight room at one time.
“That really helps to stop the spreading,” Fitzwater said.