By Georgia Elder and Riley Kate Higgins, Sports Editors
Since March, many Americans have been deprived of their favorite pastime: sports. Whether watching the World Series, betting on a promising March Madness Bracket, or playing a spring sport on a high school, collegiate, or professional level, plans changed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
When sports were first called off, a meme that surfaced of a Northwestern fan crying over the score of an NCAA basketball game against Gonzaga with the caption, “Today, we’re all the Northwestern fan kid crying #MarchSadness,” became overwhelmingly popular because it summed up people’s reactions to a world without sports.
After a long summer of watching reruns of old sports games and practicing individually, the anxiously anticipated fall sports season has finally come.
The question remains: how should fall sports proceed without putting people–spectators, coaches, players– in danger of exposure to COVID-19?
For many Harpeth Hall students, sports are an escape and a way to connect with the teammates around them while running, kicking or spiking their energy out.
This year is no exception, but new rules surrounding player safety and COVID-19 hover over every fall sport and remind the players of the seemingly everlasting pandemic.
With futures unclear, fall sports like soccer, cheerleading, volleyball, golf and cross country have started socially distanced practices.
Each sport will approach their fall seasons differently, which means fewer spectators, postponed seasons, non-contact practices and smaller teams, to name a few.
While some national college sports leagues– such as NCAA football– lean towards postponing until the spring, high school athletics are a ‘go’ in Tennessee.
At Harpeth Hall, all athletes will be able to play in the fall with some minor restrictions. For high school JV sports, athletes will come to practice on their gray and green cohort days on campus. They will play in intrasquad scrimmages instead of games against other schools until Nashville reassesses the situation after labor day.
For on-campus varsity sports, teams practice together for an hour-and-a-half in the late afternoons after each player’s temperature is checked, and hands and equipment are sanitized.
For all sports, players must wear masks on sidelines and walking to and from the field or court between practices.
Varsity teams will participate in games in the Division II-AA Region to be eligible for state tournaments. Most likely, there will be fewer teams in the region competing; therefore, teams should expect fewer games or meets during the regular season.
Distancing rules will affect contact sports the most because significant portions of each sport will be impossible with social distancing regulations, including stunting in cheer, blocking in volleyball and aggressive defense in soccer.
Distancing also prevents the usual comradery, including high fives and celebration hugs that come with supporting a teammate in any sport.
“We have to fill the time usually spent on stunting with other drills or more dancing,” MBA cheerleader and sophomore Phebe Foley said.
“It’s going to affect our performance in-season too because most of our sideline performance includes stunting.”
As for volleyball, “The 6 feet apart rule is very hard, especially because we’re blocking up against each other and high-fiving everyone when we do a good job, so it’s kind of hard to avoid” sophomore and volleyball player Lucy McNally said.
Non-contact sports like cross country and golf have had a different dynamic at practices.
Cross country staggers their practices between JV, varsity and practice teams throughout the day to maintain a manageable number of people at each practice. Runners are also required to wear face masks for warm up routines and at any points when in close proximity to other runners, if possible.
Meets have been postponed until after labor day, at least, like every other sport, but cross country has a few meets still on their schedule.
“I see the possibility of meets being socially distanced with staggered starts, but I think it would be hard seeing the difficulty to maintain social distancing within teams and considering the layout of the courses we usually run” senior and varsity cross country athlete Sarah Cook said.
Golf has also been practicing since July and requires athletes to wear masks whenever possible. However, due to the nature of the sport, much of the practice and playing time is spent already socially distanced and without a mask.
Golf courses themselves have been packed since March leading many new athletes to the sport. The PGA started back up with regular competition in July, as the first professional sport to return on air. Competition at a high school level has been running for most of the summer with regulations to encourage a safer and healthier environment.
However, scholastic competitions between schools in Tennessee have been pushed back until Labor Day.
“One of the biggest concerns with matches for us is often we have to travel and stay the night at a hotel, which Harpeth Hall would not be able to support at this point. We are all excited to get back to a more normal season, but that means we have to be cautious and follow the guidelines,” senior and varsity golfer Janet Briggs said.
Another concern has been spectator allowance at sporting events. While the TSSAA allows a one-third capacity for spectators at sports games and meets, Harpeth Hall has initiated a no-spectator policy that applies to all athletic events. Although it will be difficult to refrain from attending our fellow Honeybears’ sports games to support them, in the meantime we can support our girls in spirit and only hope that someday our stands will be as full as MBA’s on a Friday night in October.
As for Montgomery Bell Academy football games and beloved Friday night lights traditions, it is unclear who exactly will be filling the Big Red student section on Fridays this fall.
“They are definitely going to limit the number of spectators in the stands, but we’re not sure what that is going to look like yet,” Foley said. “One option that I have heard is to only allow football and cheer parents and MBA seniors.”
Many Harpeth Hall students, especially seniors, look forward to packing the stands and cheering on MBA’s football team alongside their friends and fellow MBA students covered in red paint.
“I attend those games because I love football,” senior Hannah King said. “They are just a fun Friday night outing. I was really excited to be at the front of the student section and be a senior in the section.”
While these new norms promise to be challenging. Some Harpeth Hall students remain optimistic.
“Even though we can’t be in contact, I think we’ll be even closer because of all the restrictions,” McNally said. “We’re just going to make the most out of the time we have.”