After having to train remotely for about six months, many Lehigh student-athletes were excited to return to practice in early September, albeit with various COVID-19 regulations.
So when Lehigh’s COVID-19 Response Team decided to indefinitely shut down athletics on Tuesday due to multiple COVID-19 cases across different teams, just 22 days after practices resumed on Sept. 7, many athletes were frustrated. No restart date has been announced at this time.
The decision to pause sports training and practices came as the university announced its first two positive on-campus cases and a jump in the number of students quarantined and in isolation, according to Lehigh’s COVID-19 dashboard.
For junior cross country and track and field distance runner Jamie Zamrin, frustrations have reached a boiling point. This spring and summer, Zamrin said she was independently training with the motivation of eventually being back practicing with her teammates and having a fall season.
Then, after the Patriot League’s cancellation of fall sports competition, she was training with the benefit of campus athletic facilities — Lehigh permitted athletic training under various guidelines — and having the opportunity to be back with her teammates. Now, with the indefinite shut down of athletics, Zamrin is struggling to find motivation.
“The time commitment and the struggles of being an athlete are a lot easier when you have your entire team,” Zamrin said. “The fact that now it’s solo and we don’t know how long it’s solo for is very frustrating, and it also brings motivation probably to an all time low.”
Zamrin said the uncertainty of when she will be able to return to practice coupled with the anxiety of worrying about catching the virus has been both physically and mentally stressful.
The track and field team had canceled practice the day before Lehigh officially shut down all athletics due to a COVID scare that turned out to be negative, Zamrin said. In those two days, she was scheduled to do both a grueling workout and long run that she ended up having to do alone.
Zamrin said she and her teammates have started to question the point of doing all these workouts without the motivation and camaraderie that comes with a team as well as the uncertainty of having any competition.
“At this point, it’s October now and we all kind of feel like why are we doing this?” Zamrin said.
Men’s soccer junior forward Josh Luchini, sophomore men’s golfer Sam Barton and junior women’s soccer defender/midfielder Erin Keefe also said they were frustrated by the sudden halt of Lehigh athletics. Zamrin, Barton, Luchini and Keefe all said, while it is disappointing to not have practice for the time being, they understand the decision and feel that health should be a priority.
Luchini said he is optimistic about a return sometime within two to three weeks, but is nonetheless upset about the situation. He said, however, it is difficult to know what the future will look like due to Lehigh’s administration making decisions about athletics. He said oftentimes his coaches do not know what is going on until the decisions are made.
“I can’t say anyone’s happy about it,” Luchini said. “Right now everyone’s kind of pissed off — working that hard to try to get back in shape for whatever practices we have (had) and then it gets cut short that quickly. That’s never fun. Everyone’s pretty optimistic about it and thinks it’s going to come back, and if not, hopefully in the spring it will.”
Barton said golf is a naturally social distanced sport — making it especially frustrating his team can’t play — but does not blame anyone for the current situation. He said as of now, his coaches have told the team to not play at any local golf courses.
Barton said the reason he came to Lehigh this fall was to practice with his team. A native of Center Tuftonboro, New Hampshire, he said he can’t pack up and go home easily but would consider going home if he can’t start playing within the next two weeks. With golf being such a rhythm-based sport, Barton said, even taking a week off can make a golfer rusty.
“If it’s a short thing, we get tested, and if we’re negative we can go back to play, then yeah, I’ll stay. But if they’re going to close it down, make everyone quarantine for two weeks, then I’m just going to go home I think,” Barton said. “That’s kind of where my thoughts are right now.”
Keefe said she was devastated when she heard about the shutdown. Women’s soccer went from practicing in groups of seven on Sept. 26 to sports being shut down 24 hours later.
“It was heartbreaking to all of us,” Keefe said. “It’s crazy. Sports was the only thing that was normal about this semester for us.”
Keefe said it’s frustrating because there was a lot riding on fall preparations. Soccer is usually a fall sport, but with the cancellation of the fall season, the team was waiting for a potential season in the spring. She said if the fall doesn’t work out, the chances of there being a spring season are slim.
Keefe said if they want to have a spring season, everyone needs to be more aware that their decisions are impacting more than just themselves.
“We had a Zoom meeting with our entire team, and we were just going over how we need to be more aware socially that we are wearing masks, and that we’re social distancing,” Keefe said. “I feel like those are the conversations that we need to keep having to make sure everyone’s on the same page so that we can get back to it as soon as possible.”
Keefe said while a lot of people were following protocols, sports are a team effort.
“We need to all work together,” Keefe said. “It can’t be one team doing something and one team not.”
While Keefe is disappointed, she said she’d rather have others figure out the protocols now than to have them do this all over again in the spring season.
‘It’s frustrating,” Keefe said. “We’ve been working our whole lives to get to this point, and now, everything is so up in the air.”
Despite the frustrations, Barton, Luchini and Keefe both said they would have no concerns about returning to practice when Lehigh allows them to do so.
Zamrin said, while she wants to return to practice, Lehigh’s COVID-19 testing strategy concerns her. She said aside from contact tracing for those who might’ve been exposed to the virus, Zamrin wants everyone to get tested again before returning to practice.
Lehigh conducted mandatory surveillance testing for all non-remote students the first two weeks of the semester. After that, only symptomatic students would be tested through the university — until just recently, when Lehigh announced it would begin random surveillance testing of a small percentage of the non-remote student population.
Zamrin said she knows of other schools who are testing every week, which she said she’d prefer Lehigh to do. She said she thinks it’s a “failure” that Lehigh has not tested students more often.
“I definitely am an advocate of them testing us at least once a week just because I think after this, there’s no way we could avoid another scare unless they start testing people,” Zamrin said. “It just proves it — by testing one guy on the football team, it brought the entire athletic administration to a halt. They really should be testing us more. But then, if they do, I’m sure there’d be another pause. You can’t really win I guess.”
Zamrin said her coach told her team that, this summer, half of Lehigh’s administration was against having practices in the fall. With the current situation, she is worried that fear of this happening again could halt sports for the rest of the fall.
Zamrin also said she feels the athletic community is being falsely blamed for an issue that is campus-wide.
“It’s honestly going to be more political at this point within the Lehigh administration,” Zamrin said. “All of that being said, if the politics of the Lehigh administration doesn’t get in the way, I think we could safely return to play if they got through the tracing list and people quarantined.”