Move to most serious tier revokes access

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A sign on display in October near the softball field. COURTESY PHOTO

The return to campus for practice was short-lived for Delta College athletics as COVID-19 cases worsened in San Joaquin County.

Delta athletics teams were given approval to return to campus for practice as of Nov. 5, but San Joaquin County moved back into the purple tier on Nov. 17 after a spike in COVID-19 cases, prompting the program to suspend the return.

With the return to campus canceled, Delta’s athletics department has opted to return to remote conditioning for all teams and is figuring out how to plan for the spring, when competitions are scheduled to take place.

For Delta College Track and Field Head Coach Lauryn Seales, the suspension of the return to campus was a major disappointment.

“It sucked,” said Seales. “We were looking forward to finally working towards training and giving the student-athletes a chance to get to the next level.”

Director of Athletics Tony Espinoza stated that everyone in the program was feeling great about returning to campus, though returning to remote training due to a spike was also possible.

“The athletes, coaches and staff were excited about the return,” said Espinoza. “It was made clear at the beginning of the return — if the numbers got worse in our county — that we would need to return to remote training.”

Even when the return to practice on campus was approved, some athletes didn’t get the chance to do any training at all.

Student-athletes were required to fill out forms to return to campus, and not all members of the Track and Field team were able to print them out.

“With a larger group of athletes, we never got to fully return all of our athletes to practice,” said Seales. “Many of our athletes did not have the ability to print out the paperwork required to return, so this slowed the process tremendously. They are used to Roxanne [Bava-Noble] [Administrative Assistant of Eligibility] giving it to them.”

Prior to San Joaquin County moving back into the purple tier, the track and field team was also shut down from practicing after one of its students was exposed to COVID-19.

“After the first day of our cross country practice, one of our athletes was exposed to a person who contracted the virus,” said Seales. “Once this was reported, we were shut down for 14 days. We entered into the purple tier before the expiration of the 14 days and were shut down entirely.”

Although the announcement was discouraging for some, others saw the suspension coming.

Student-athlete Alexis Pagala forms part of the track and field team, and states the announcement for her was almost expected.

“I can say that I was not totally surprised. Since the start of the athletic suspension, we’ve seen and felt the impact of many different and unsuspecting events,” said Pagala. “This suspension was somewhat predicted.” 

With training once again going remote, Delta College’s athletics program has turned much of its attention to supporting student-athletes with their education.

Espinoza also stated that staff is helping guide the students through the pandemic.

“The majority of the focus is now on academic success and continuing to work towards a degree and a transfer opportunity,” said Espinoza. “In addition, our coaches and our staff are able to provide support and guidance to individual athletes that may be experiencing personal struggles through these difficult times.”

Suspension of training on campus has left teams with doubts on how they’ll prepare for competition in the spring.

“I’d be lying if I said I’m not anxious about this. Online training is not efficient enough to prepare collegiate athletes for competition,” said Seales. “Could you imagine teaching pole vault or hurdles online? It simply cannot happen. We usually would be technical event practices right now but COVID has set us back tremendously.”

The students haven’t found online training as effective for them as practicing on campus.

Pagala claims that remote conditioning is a challenge for her and her teammates.

“I’d like to think that I’ve been handling this training situation well, but training online has been a tough struggle for me and my fellow athletes. Perfecting my form has been at a slower pace since this whole thing [pandemic] started,” said Pagala. “I’m eager to get back to normal and do what I enjoy without restrictions.” 

Espinoza recognizes how challenging it is for coaches and athletes to prepare for the spring this way, yet he states that the decision to suspend the return was the right choice and is for everyone’s safety.

“It definitely makes it difficult, but our focus since this started in March has been the safety and well-being of our athletes, coaches and staff,” said Espinoza. “We know we will work through this and be successful on the other side.”

Not everyone in the program agrees.

Although the director of athletics sees the suspension of practice as the right thing to do, Seales thought it was too soon to move away from the return plan.

“With contending schools still able to practice, we will need to figure out how to still train in person to be on the same playing field. I believe the system we had in place worked,” said Seales. “Even with someone being exposed, there was no outbreak amongst my team. I think we probably could have proceeded.”

Delta’s programs aren’t the only ones experiencing shutdowns due to COVID-19.

The University of the Pacific announced in a press release on Dec. 4 that its men’s basketball program will temporarily cease all activities for at least 14 days after one of its players tested positive for the virus. 

With COVID-19 cases on the rise and the start of the spring competitions approaching, it comes into question whether or not the California Community College Athletics Association (CCCAA) should allow the sporting events to take place as planned.

Keeping students healthy is currently Delta College’s number one concern and the CCCAA has not shown any signs of holding off on the start of the season. However, the athletics department still supports the CCCAA on how it is managing the situation.

“Everything is very fluid at this time. We are very confident in the leadership that is being provided by the CCCAA and the COVID working group that is constantly evaluating the return plan for the state,” said Espinoza.