Title: Spring Sports: Then & Now
One word comes to mind when speaking with SUNY Brockport student-athletes about the life-altering COVID-19 pandemic. Resilience.
The stories of how the cancelation of NCAA sports impacted the Golden Eagles are remarkable and even heart breaking. Several student-athletes were less than 24 hours away from the ultimate goal of competing at the NCAA Division III National Championships. Some were in the midst of competition on their spring trip to Florida, while others were loading their bus with equipment to head down south to enjoy playing the sport they love. And some were at the beginning stages of a spring season, with high hopes of finishing out their collegiate career by raising a SUNYAC Championship trophy.
All of these lifelong dreams came to a screeching halt when NCAA President Mark Emmert and the Board of Governors released a brief statement on March 12, 2020, that all remaining winter and spring championships would be canceled due to the public health threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I just kind of sat there. It took me a minute to realize that this was really happening after such an amazing indoor season,” said Brockport All-American thrower Tony DeYoung, who had traveled with coaches and fellow qualifying teammates to North Carolina to participate in the NCAA Track & Field Championships. A senior, DeYoung was the top-ranked shot put qualifier in the nation and the odds-on favorite to finally fulfill his dream of winning a national championship in a Brockport uniform.
Megan Van Dorn, a junior pitcher on the softball team, was in the midst of the program’s spring trip in Florida when the news came through that their season was coming to an abrupt halt.
“The announcement made me feel uneasy, because if they were canceling sports, then the pandemic was becoming very dangerous,” said Van Dorn. “I was upset that our season was canceled, but at the same time I wanted to ensure that everyone in my family, on my team, and my friends were safe.”
Kyle Canavally, a fifth-year senior pitcher on the baseball team, found out their spring trip to Florida was being canceled as the team was packing the bus outside of the Tuttle Complex. Just 24 hours later, Head Baseball Coach Justin Beach had to gather the team for a meeting to deliver the crushing news about the loss of an entire spring season.
“I think it was definitely tough, because not only was the season over, but we were also getting sent home,” said Canavally, a Schenectady, NY, native. “You’re used to being around your teammates and dealing with things together. So, it was tough that the season was ending, and everyone was going their separate ways.”
The stories of heartbreak and disappointment are countless for the Golden Eagles, and the toll that the loss of athletic competition has taken on their mental health became more evident as the pandemic persisted.
However, a resilient strength has resonated throughout the Brockport athletic department in the face of this adversity. The Golden Eagles came together — in a COVID-friendly manner, of course — and leaned on each other in the darkest of times.
“My teammates and I, we had each other’s back,” said Chanyce Powell, an All-American jumper on the track and field team, about how she has coped with the loss of a year of athletic competition. “We’ve tried to always think positive thoughts about possibly having another season eventually.”
Student-athletes have also praised the work of the Brockport coaching staff, for stepping up in a new “virtual world” to help teams stay connected in times when they otherwise could not be together.
“Coach Beach has been preaching that we need to make the most of what we have. Be resilient. Don’t be mentally weak,” said Canavally of the longtime Brockport baseball coach. “He kept telling us that everyone is dealing with the same thing in the SUNYAC. The team that is going to come out on top this year is going to be the team that is going to adapt the quickest and is the most mentally tough.”
Fast forward, nearly one full year to the day, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras announced that spring sport competition would resume on March 20, 2021. It’s a moment the Golden Eagles have dreamt about for the entire pandemic.
“The boys are so excited to be together. Shooting, running, working out. To actually feel like an athlete again on campus is tremendous,” said senior men’s lacrosse defender Michael Coletti. “A lot of these guys have not experienced what it’s like to be a Brockport athlete, whether it’s going to the weight room, training room or having practice. It’s just exciting to finally be back and be an athlete.”
Spring sport practices resumed at Brockport with the start of the spring semester in early February, and fall and winter sport practices are beginning to pick up again, as well. Brockport student-athletes are gearing up for a return to some semblance of normalcy, as competition is set to begin by the end of March.
“Since we are back in the swing of things at practice, it almost doesn’t feel real,” said Van Dorn. “It is still difficult making sure everyone is socially distanced and always has their mask on, but it is worth every second of it.”
The excitement of returning to competition also comes with a certain pressure to perform after the longest break that many of the student-athletes have ever experienced. “It’s a relief that we can return to some normalcy. But at the same time, I haven’t competed in a year. Can I triple jump or long jump anymore?” joked Powell, who hopes to head back to nationals this spring.
Through all of this, it has not been lost on the Golden Eagles that every difficult situation is also an opportunity to grow.
“The pandemic has made everyone a little more selfless in this world,” said Coletti, who is in the midst of preparing for his senior season of lacrosse after a full year off. “Not just worrying about yourself anymore, it’s worrying about the guy next to you and making sure you’re doing your part.”
The impact of COVID has given the Golden Eagles a new perspective about just how precious their time spent competing alongside their fellow teammates can be. “This has definitely made me value quality time with my teammates. Even just hanging out as a group, I would say that we definitely took that for granted in the past,” said Canavally.
As the light at the end of the tunnel shines a bit brighter, the Golden Eagles are once again beginning to turn their focus back to competing at the highest levels, while also not forgetting how difficult the journey has been.
“We’re just excited to get back to competition. A lot of us crave competition, and having that taken from us was hard,” said Coletti. “We’re looking forward to going against someone other than ourselves. Even if it is an abbreviated season, we’re excited to represent Brockport.”
SUNYAC Conference play will look slightly different this spring as the conference has been split into East/West divisions to limit travel and overnight stays. Masks will be worn, and currently, spectators will not be allowed pursuant to New York State Department of Health guidelines.
Regardless of the limitations, the Golden Eagles are ready and willing to navigate any obstacle ahead in order to feel the rush of competing together in the green and gold.