VCU sport clubs face challenges during pandemic

Cary Street Gym is home to VCU RecSports. Photo by Jon Mirador

Nick Alfano, Contributing Writer

Lesser-known athletes in VCU’s recreational sport clubs have struggled to participate in sports even as varsity college athletics throughout Virginia have resumed competition.

A Rec Sports spokesperson says the department faces a myriad of challenges while trying to maintain safety guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Clubs that would normally carry this large roster of returning people are going to have to basically recruit from scratch and try to build their club back up next year,” said VCU Rec Sports sport club coordinator Michael Potter. “Numbers have definitely taken a huge hit.”

The 2019-20 academic year saw approximately 1,500 active sport club participants, Potter said. In 2020-21, the number of participants dropped to approximately 600.

In an effort to take “an overabundance of caution,” sport club athletes are required to maintain 10 feet of social distance, limit indoor practice to 12 athletes and 25 while outdoors, Potter said. Clubs must also provide VCU Rec Sports with a daily list of practice participants. Athletes must use the virtual VCU Entry Pass system to enter practice facilities, according to VCU Rec Sports.

However, the protocols meant to help sport club athletes participate may be deterring them, Potter said.

“I don’t know if individuals feel that it’s unsafe or that the restrictions make them feel like they don’t want to go out and play lacrosse if they can’t defend each other, or they don’t want to play dodgeball if they can’t be at full capacity on our courts,” Potter said.

Five of VCU’s 38 sports clubs ceased operation this semester “because there’s really nothing that they can do,” Potter said. One of the teams is VCU’s club judo team, due to the close physical proximity the sport demands. The team elected not to participate at all this semester, Potter said. 

The club cycling, ice hockey, women’s basketball and wrestling teams have also chosen not to operate this semester due to COVID-19 concerns and difficulty participating within guidelines, Potter said.

However, some clubs have continued to thrive during the pandemic, despite general sport club participation trending downward.

“With the exception of a couple of people, most of the people who came back to campus are still playing with us, which is really good,” said R.J. Peters, president of the VCU Vendetta women’s Ultimate Frisbee team. “Our numbers are pretty comparable to what they would have been otherwise.”

Peters and the Vendetta team wear masks during practice, despite VCU only requiring masks to be worn during indoor sport practices.

“It’s kind of freaky because other teams don’t do that,” Peters said. “Seeing them on the field, not wearing masks … to us, it’s really scary.”

Much of the team’s success in the past year has stemmed from making decisions as a whole team rather than just among club officers, Peters said.

“The biggest thing with COVID is trust between the players and the leadership team,” Peters said. “And communication, because communication is so, so important.”

Sport clubs will have to follow the same COVID-19 guidelines they have for almost a year, even as VCU makes in-person learning available again. 

“Being realistic, I don’t foresee us changing anything,” Potter said. “We wish the numbers were higher, but they are what they are and we’re trying to provide the best and safest experience for everyone who is participating at this time.”

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