Under normal circumstances, Grant Nolder, president of the USF flag football team would be preparing for the club’s biggest competition of the year, the Swamp Bowl. The annual tournament, hosted at UF, typically takes place during the fall semester and features some of the best club flag football teams in the country.
Winners of the tournament are invited to the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association’s National Flag Football tournament.
However, club sports at USF — like so many other facets of daily life and the college experience — have fallen victim to the impact of the novel coronavirus.
“We had a full fall schedule ahead of us to play,” Nolder said. “It all just kind of stopped.”
All club sports activities at the university have been halted indefinitely. So instead of gearing up to play in the Swamp Bowl, Nolder and so many others remain in limbo, waiting to see what will become of the rest of the club sports season.
USF announced its decision to halt all in-person meetings for student organizations in a letter from Dean of Students Danielle McDonald on Aug. 17. In the letter, she wrote that any activity or event put on by a student organization had to be held virtually, and club sports fell under that umbrella.
Teams have not been able to hold tryouts, practices or compete in games thus far.
Despite those guidelines, which are supposed to last the entirety of the fall semester, there are club presidents, like Nolder, who believe that they could continue to practice and compete in their respective sports with the necessary precautions.
“I can’t speak for everybody, but I know for me and the people I’ve talked to we’re all ready to play again,” Nolder said. “We know that we could do it in a safe way that wouldn’t be as risky, and our sport really isn’t like, in my opinion, the most dangerous sport. If everybody that played wore masks, I feel like it would just be fine.”
At the beginning of September, a petition was started by dance club president Taylor Zarzycki asking the USF board to overturn its decision and allow sports clubs to begin in-person practices and competitions.
Zarzycki did not respond to The Oracle’s request for an interview.
The petition currently has over 160 signatures and argues that sports clubs should be able to function under the same protocols as “official” USF sports.
Although the petition has a modest amount of support, recent events, like the closing of Recreation and Wellness facilities on campus in September due to a rise in coronavirus cases among gymgoers, makes it difficult for proponents of the petition to get their wish.
The Recreation and Wellness facilities have since been reopened on Oct. 5, but club sports are still on pause.
“Honestly I’m on board with [the petition’s] position, but I just don’t think it’s going to really happen,” basketball club president Jamal Lockhart said. “I don’t think it’s going to bear any fruit at the moment, just because of the rise in COVID cases. Because if the COVID cases were constantly declining especially in our area, then I would see it get more ground.”
As for Recreation and Wellness, all of its decisions as to when club sports will be able to return to normal activities will coincide with USF and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
“We’re staying in line with the university policy right now that was set forth from the Dean of Students Office,” Antonio Gonzalez, assistant director of sports programs and outdoor facilities for Recreation and Wellness, said. “Because sports clubs fall under student organizations, so technically all of our sports clubs are registered student organizations first and then sports clubs is the secondary piece.”
While the ultimate goal of Recreation and Wellness and the university is to help mitigate the risk and infection of COVID-19, it has not been lost on them that one of the main aspects that makes the sports clubs experience unique for so many students is the camaraderie and the relationships built on the respective teams.
It is for that reason Recreation and Wellness has been urging club presidents and participants to engage with each other virtually until physical meetings can be resumed.
“Sports clubs, and the reason that our sports club community is so successful, is that it’s more than just an opportunity to participate in an activity on a field or in a classroom, wherever it may be, wherever they practice,” Gonzalez said.
“I like to think that the community aspect outweighs the competitive aspect. I think the frustration right now comes from when people can’t compete and do things that they’re passionate about, it makes it more challenging for them to want to get engaged with that community aspect. But really, that community aspect is probably what brought them back into the competition.
“It’d be better if you had a close circle of friends, and our sports clubs communities create that, even though you can’t go and practice like you normally would, there’s still ways to engage within that social network to at least provide the support that students need right now in the virtual setting.”
For club sports veterans like Lockhart, who has been a member of the basketball team since his freshman year and is currently in his last year at USF, the changes this year haven’t been the easiest to deal with.
Club sports have been more than just a competitive outlet for him to play the sport that he loves. It has been a sacred part of his life at USF. Being a part of a club team has taken him across the country and helped him to make bonds that he will be hard-pressed to forget.
But even with all the adjustments he has made and will continue to have to make with the ever-changing climate of the virus, Lockhart is still hopeful that he will be able to take the court with his team sometime this year while helping to pass on the tradition to future club sports athletes.
“Personally it’s had a huge impact on me,” Lockhart said of club sports. “No matter how much work I’ve had to do for it, I’ve just been proud of it. It’s hard to see it in the state that it’s in right now, but hopefully, we’ll be able to bounce back for the future.
“Now for me, it’s just time to find the next generation to keep it going.”