Playing during a pandemic: the athletes' perspective
April 11, 2021 by Caleb Gottry, Chandler Preparatory Academy
Caleb Gottry attends Chandler Preparatory Academy and is a member of the AIA’s Student SID program.
Quarantines, mask mandates, social-distancing guidelines, season delays: these are all things no student athlete thought they would ever experience, but they have now become everyday vocabulary. This past year of sports has been perhaps the most difficult year for Chandler Prep sports, not in the matter of succeeding in competition, but in overcoming logistical hurdles. Coaches and parents made their voices heard with thankfulness for each season happening, but also with frustrations about delayed starts, cancelled games, limits on number of fans, and mandatory quarantines.
The student athlete community still runs strong, however, and while apt to gripe sometimes, they look at the successes of this year of sports more with a sense of pride and accomplishment than disgust. Junior Josh VanOrdt, a member of the football, basketball, and baseball teams says “a great athlete does not give up when chips are down” and the Chandler Prep Titans embrace this attitude.
Joining VanOrdt to talk about this strange year of sports at Chandler Prep are juniors Noah LoBue (football), Tatum McDonald (basketball/track), and Lois Brodnik (soccer/softball), seniors Liam Meagher (tennis) and Olivia Cadien (volleyball/beach volleyball), and freshman Creon Fulgham (wrestling/football).
Caleb Gottry: What’s the best thing you’ve experienced with CPA sports despite COVID? What are some good things that never would’ve happened if it were not for COVID?
Noah LoBue: Playing in front of fans, although limited, was still amazing, especially when they showed up to senior night and our home playoff game.
Tatum McDonald: CPA has provided me with some amazing friends and teammates that I have had the pleasure of playing with over the years…. If it were not for COVID, I never would have learned to discipline myself outside of school when we were unable to practice together. I have been able to learn the importance of commitment and dedication in order to see improvement.
Liam Meagher: I love being able to lead a team that didn’t get to complete our season last year. I still get to play doubles with my partner, which I didn’t think I would, and our upcoming senior night will likely be a highlight of my CPA sports experience.
CG: What are some things you’ve had to do on your own because of quarantine or limited practice time?
Josh VanOrdt: Every time we were quarantined, I made sure I followed coach Bobby Davis’s direction. I went to the park with my dad and practiced in full gear. This helped me keep my focus physically and mentally on the games and school academics. It taught me better time management. In the last playoff game for football, I scored the first three touchdowns because I was not going to let COVID dictate my game and leadership.
Lois Brodnik: Mostly just getting some extra work in on my own time. Running for soccer and pitching or getting some swings in for softball.
LM: I’ve felt more pressure to lift on my own because of limited sessions and such a compressed season’s worth of matches.
CG: How has the coaching and training changed to encourage and direct you when practices were not able to be “normal?”
NL: The first couple weeks of football practice were no contact, so we were not allowed to practice with the football. We spent these weeks working on drills that built up our agility, reaction time, and stamina. We also studied the plays and formations we would run before we even touched a ball. Practice became more mental and more focused when we were unable to do contact practices.
TM: It was very difficult to stay positive throughout all of this, especially in the beginning when we were not able to have any contact in basketball or when summer ball was taken away. But my coaches were able to keep us motivated as they reminded us how fortunate we were to still be playing sports in a difficult time of uncertainty and challenges the world was facing.
CG: What were some of the precautions/rules in place and how did they affect your preparation or play?
JV: Playing with masks in practice and games was and has become normal. I carry masks and sanitizer like I carry my pens and pencils; I always have one. It made me responsible and again taking ownership as to not let my team or coach down. Even more so, not bringing it home to my family and get them sick. I tested every Thursday, to do my part in keeping my teammates, coaches, and family safe.
TM: The mask mandate and social distancing guidelines were definitely a challenge, especially being in a contact sport. Practicing and playing games definitely affected the way I played at first until I got used to it. Masks made it very difficult to breathe when running and in exerting myself to perform the best I can. Social distancing also put a strain on practices because we were not able to practice some of the key skills needed in a game. It also affected how many people were allowed to come watch and our interactions with the other team on game days.
CG: How did COVID bring the team closer together despite limited practices and physical distancing?
NL: Since so many people decided to opt out of this season due to COVID, the football team was down to about half its former size. The team understood this since the very first practices, that we would need to make up for lack of people by lifting and practicing harder. In many ways, less people actually made the football team tighter, since the whole team worked equally as hard because no one knew when they might be called up to play.
Creon Fulgham: It made us realize that the time we have together is a lot more special than we expected or thought in the beginning.
LM: Tennis had a much smaller team this year. We all grew much closer because almost every player attended matches and we didn’t need to split up the courts as much as in a normal season.
CG: To what extent are you focused on what rules are changing and logistical stuff versus just focusing on the sport and playing with your team?
JV: I wanted the seniors to have a season, and there always will be rules. It's up to us to follow and follow-thru. Some of us need highlights in order to catch a good college’s attention for a particular sport. Keeping our faith in the administration, our coaches, and our team kept me going. I know where I want to be, and so we all stayed on track to follow all guidelines. I was glad that all our seniors had a season and happy that we were able to play. I have cousins in other states that had no season at all. I am very thankful for our Athletic Director, Coach Lytle, who worked hard to keep us all in the loop and give us a chance to play. It was sometimes sad to not see my family in the stands cheering; it just made me play strong—TITAN STRONG
LB: I am less focused on what had to change in order to play and more focused on the opportunity to actually play. The changes in rules are a minor setback when you look at the big picture. I try to focus on playing the sport with my team and not get caught up in worrying about the rule changes.
CG: What things did you do to stay motivated about your sport during season delays and potential cancelations?
Olivia Cadien: Thinking about the season being cancelled made it hard to continue getting in the gym and weight room for practice and workouts, but knowing that we were lucky to be able to practice was something that kept us all going. I also kept thinking that by lifting and putting in the work, even when the season was uncertain, would allow us to start the season strong.
LB: Staying motivated sometimes seemed impossible. During soccer, our season was delayed at least three times and almost canceled once. It was frustrating because we had been practicing since October and we just wanted to play. The soccer season was five months long and while this was fun, it was exhausting. I tried to focus on staying motivated for my teammates. This pushed me to get back on the field every day because I didn’t want to let them down. I especially did this for the seniors on the team. They deserved one last good season and I didn’t want to take that away from them. At times it was hard, but I think focusing on my teammates helped me stay motivated through the long months.
CG: Non-Seniors, what is the thing you miss the most about regular sports/what are you looking forward to next year?
NL: I miss the full stands and the loudness of the crowd at home games. Even with all the people that showed up this season, it wasn’t exactly the same. Support from friends and family makes a big difference. Telling the other team good game and shaking their hands were also taken away for some games, which was disappointing because we genuinely like competing against other kids our age. Not being able to have a homecoming game or dance was also a huge disappointment, and I really hope we can get those next year.
JV: I always remember that, no matter what, we had good seasons. It was sad to not see friends and family in the stands cheering, but somehow my mom managed to be there. She volunteered and after work and would come to games. School spirit and camaraderie are the threads that weave all of the school together. That was changing as the rules were fluid. What was good today, changed tomorrow. Change is always happening and how we adapt to it makes us who we are, as a person and as a student athlete. The live streaming of events was great as all extended families were able to watch us. COVID may have made stands empty with no fans, but it made us stronger as teams. I am looking forward to a strong start to the football season and leading and helping our teams get to the next level of excellence.
CG: In what ways do you feel that your team is prepared for a regular season again?
TM: I think our team is prepared to come back fighting next year for basketball. Everyone is eager to keep improving and getting better as a team. We all work really hard and I think because we all do our best, we have a lot to look forward to next year. And hopefully we will be ready to see some fans in the stands and get back to what a normal basketball game looks like.
CF: The number of games and the amount of competition will be fun and hard at the same time. This year there weren’t as many games for the teams as it would be for the regular season.
LB: The delay in the seasons affected spring sports this year by cutting them short. This is hard because last year spring sports were cut short also. I think for a lot of spring athletes it has been hard to come back strong after that long of a break. Having a regular season next year will help these spring athletes greatly to be able to refresh their skills with enough time.
CG: What made it worth it to go through the quarantines, the COVID tests, the smaller teams (in some instances) to play this year?
OC: It was all worth it just to be able to play my senior season. Being able to play with some of my best friends one last time made it all worth it.
TM: Honestly, just in order to be able to play on the court and have game days made it all worth it. I was willing to do anything to play basketball with my team, even if it meant COVID tests and quarantining.
LM: I enjoy bringing energy to the team because they are my energy and give me something to enjoy each and every day. I heavily considered not playing this year, due to the circumstances, but I have enjoyed every moment of the season.
CG: Can you name one mentor, coach, trainer, parent that specifically was vital to your success this year in sports and all that that involved?
JV: I consider myself very lucky to be surrounded by great people. My parents, my biggest supporters, kept me motivated by reminding me to nourish your body, mind, and soul. They told me that when I feel like stopping, think about why I started playing sports. They told me to remember to start with the end in mind. Coach Tom and Josh Brittain always told me to never give up and kept my faith going. They are a great team and kept me motivated and pushed me to be the best I can be. Coach Ben Wilson and Coach Nick S lead us to state championships. Coach Ben Wilson made the logo for our practice shirts: a ring of fire with five Titans symbols around it…. They both told me to always work hard as you are having fun; play the game strong. Mr. Haley had conversations with me about my goals in sports and life, a great mentor.
LB: My parents are always my number one supporters. Without them I would never be where I am in sports. My dad is also the softball coach, so he is a huge part of my sports life. Coach Jen Vilaboy was also a key part of my success in soccer this year. Without her I would not have been able to grow my soccer skills from last year. Lastly, Coach Raul Guadian has been an essential part of softball this year. He is always ready to do whatever it takes to make our softball team better.
The Chandler Prep Titans hope to finish the year out with a strong spring season. Check the website for specific dates and times. Titan Up.