Members of the Pace varsity girls volleyball team must wear masks to face their opponents on the court. Photo: Bennett Boushka

As spring turned to summer, those working in the Pace athletics office shifted their focus to the next aspect of school life potentially hindered by the COVID-19 pandemic: fall sports. Preparation for Pace sports traditionally starts one season ahead of when athletes actually compete, so for fall sports that means returning to campus in the summer for workouts and practices.

This summer, however, due to the cancellation of all spring events, many questions arose about how Pace would handle workouts this summer. “Starting in March, [Gus] Whyte, Dr. [Troy] Baker, [Anna] Bush and I were having daily Zoom sessions all throughout the spring, maintaining between five to 10 options and weighing what the GHSA was suggesting, what we were hearing and what was best for Pace,” said newly named Athletic Director Chad Wabrek. “For all decisions we are balancing a fine line between GHSA protocol and school decision.”

The first teams to start activities were football, cheerleading and volleyball. In June, all three teams began workouts at the Riverview Athletic Complex where everyone adhered to social distancing protocols and wore masks at all times. “It was a terrific challenge and a wonderful opportunity to become a good team,” said Head Varsity Football Coach Chris Slade.

Another sport that started preparing over the summer for the fall season was cross country. “We are very lucky that in the past we had already practiced in groups of 10 and were usually spaced out,” said junior Robert Mallis. “Because of this, our preseason routine stayed very similar to what we had done in the past.” Due to the emphasis on safety this summer, Pace has had no major outbreaks among its athletes or coaches.  

While Pace has been able to successfully manage the situation thus far, there have been a few challenges. “Getting to know the freshmen and integrating them into the team dynamic was more difficult this year due to having to be socially distanced and wearing a mask,” said Coach Slade. Teachers and students have also reported that meeting new people is the hardest thing about the new protocols.

Wearing masks has also been a slight challenge for athletes who have had to wear masks while practicing and playing. “It has been manageable,” said sophomore softball player Victoria Hadley. “There have only been a few times where I found it hard to breathe because of my mask.” 

Another challenge that the athletic department faced was that not every school took the same precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19. The volleyball team had to cancel a few matches because the other teams’ protocols did not comply with what Pace required, like not requiring their players to wear masks. Mr. Wabrek reported that for the athletic staff, the most difficult thing was that they could not provide certainty to the families of the athletes. “It required [the families] to be very flexible and we are very grateful that they were,”  he said.

With COVID-19 expected to be a threat through the fall, many new policies and practices that have been adopted by Pace will remain in place. Fall seasons were delayed and shortened, with all senior nights moved to late August or early September. Fans have been limited at games for most sports, with volleyball, cross country and softball currently only allowing parents and siblings of athletes to attend. For the football games the fans who are allowed are parents, seniors, and 25 faculty members. By the time winter sports start back up, students can expect to have some fans at games. However, the student sections of the past will most likely not be a possibility this year.

According to the athletic department, many of the safety protocols might remain even once COVID-19 has diminished, as they keep athletes safe. Also things like Zoom meetings may remain for the convenience of players and coaches.  Players can expect updates from coaches and the athletic department through the fall and into the winter seasons.

“Overall we are focused on three things, and that is clarity, consistency and communication,” said Mr. Wabrek. “Those three words mean a lot to us, and we are doubling down on these efforts because we need our families to know that this matters to us, and that the safety and health of our students will always be number one in our mind.”

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