By Tyler Browne
In a typical fall semester, the first week on campus would end with the first football game of the year. Students would pack the bleachers of Stagg Field to watch the Pride begin another campaign.
Throughout the week, the other fall sports teams would begin their seasons as well. From mid-afternoon through early evening, students could walk down the sidewalk on Alden Street and hear the cheers coming from Stagg, Brock-Affleck Field and Blake Arena.
However, this is the fall of 2020, where nothing is normal. On July 17, Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper and Director of Athletics Craig Poisson made the difficult decision to cancel intercollegiate athletics for the fall semester, out of concern for the health of students and coaches amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
For the athletes who make up these teams, this announcement was expected but met with disappointment.
For Heather Fontaine, this disappointment began in March, when Dr. Cooper first announced that the College would be moving to remote learning.
“When school first went remote back in March, I was very disappointed that we would not have a spring track season. I did feel very confident that we would be able to compete come fall season, obviously not knowing at the time how the virus was going to take its course,” said Fontaine, who is also a member of the cross-country team.
“I really started to wonder if we would be able to compete this fall when Governor Baker began reopening the state of Massachusetts. As we were going through the phases [of reopening], it seemed like it was moving slower than what people had originally assumed – again not fully understanding the virus’s course of action,” said Fontaine.
While administration made it clear that they were working to find ways to allow for students to return to campus in September, there was no official word on athletics until an email was sent out in mid-July from Cooper and Poisson, explaining the decision to cancel the fall season.
By the time of the announcement, some athletes had already begun to expect the worst.
“I was optimistic that we would still be able to compete in some sort of way, but I was realistic that it wouldn’t look like all our seasons before…In the middle of July I started to doubt our return to a normal season, all the big schools and the NCAA were having big meetings and canceling seasons, so I had a feeling that we wouldn’t have much of a season or even one at all,” said Camryn Bancroft, a senior on the women’s volleyball team.
“When I first started seeing on Twitter that conferences began to cancel, I kept checking every day, like, ‘they’re probably going to cancel us next.’ So I started checking everyday once conferences started cancelling and then when they cancelled us it was just all so crazy,” said Hunter Belzo, a fifth-year senior on the football team.
Belzo and Bancroft both lost more than just their final season with the Pride. They each had their season cut short by an injury last fall, not knowing that they had played their last collegiate game.
“I was really upset [when they cancelled the season]. My [junior] season was cut short due to a season ending stress fracture and now my senior season was canceled as well. Not at all how I want to end my career at Springfield,” said Bancroft.
Upon learning of the cancellation, Belzo reached out to Chad Shade, the team’s quarterback, who was also returning for a fifth-year. Although he considered taking the year off and finishing school in 2021, Belzo decided to finish his collegiate experience this semester.
“If I want to come back to the team, I’ll go to grad school or something like that. I just don’t want to keep pushing back my degree. I was supposed to graduate this past spring, but I saved credits so I could play this fall…I’ll worry about football later.”
The absence of sports also marks a major change in the lifestyle of fall athletes. Belzo has chosen to take his classes remotely from home, but there has been quite a difference in campus life for athletes living in dorms, especially with practices on hold for the first two weeks of the semester.
“It’s been weird not having anything during that 4 p.m. time slot, but it’s been good to get adjusted to this new normal during this time without practice. I’ve still been able to run with a few of my teammates, socially distanced of course,” said Fontaine.
“I’m very happy and grateful to be back on campus but honestly, it’s very boring without practice or being able to compete with my team…The only thing that keeps driving me to be better is knowing we can be back in the gym in a week and finally get to touch a ball and play with my teammates.
“The feeling of being on the court with your teammates and watching everything you’ve been working for the whole week in practice, that’s what I really miss the most,” said Bancroft.
While Bancroft and Belzo may be done competing for the Pride, Fontaine, a junior, has one year left. What is she most looking forward to once she can compete again?
“I am most looking forward to the anticipation leading up to that first race back, and all of the excitement that is going to build up from the last race back in March up to the next time we toe the line.”
Photo Courtesy of Sam Leventhal