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Club sports find new ways to function under COVID-19 restrictions on in-person contact

Social distancing requirements have affected recruitment processes and athletic practices for club sports

Due to lack of in-person publicity and recruitment, club sports have struggled to gain as many new students as they typically would at the beginning of a school year.
Due to lack of in-person publicity and recruitment, club sports have struggled to gain as many new students as they typically would at the beginning of a school year.

The University’s COVID-19 protocols for the fall semester have led to decreased student interest for the Virginia Alpine Ski and Snowboard team, club softball, club tennis, and the Virginia Dance Company by around 50 percent. 

Due to lack of in-person publicity and recruitment, club sports have struggled to gain as many new students as they typically would at the beginning of a school year. Recruitment this semester has been entirely online, so gaining student interest occurred mostly through social media platforms. HackCville and Student Council both held online activities fairs over Zoom, but the fairs had much lower turnout than in-person fairs held on Grounds in past years. 

Madison Varney, a second-year College student and president of club softball, said the team struggled with recruiting new members this semester. 

“There were 15 students that came out to tryouts last year, while this year we only had 8,” Varney said. “So there were almost double the number of students who came to tryouts last year.”

The Virginia Alpine Ski and Snowboarding Team had fewer students join their Zoom activities fairs as well, according to Arianna Asquini, a fourth-year Engineering student and president of VASST.

“Turnout was much lower than during a normal fall semester,” Asquini said.

Club tennis had a similar experience — while the team usually gets about 200 sign-ups from new students, they only had around 100 this semester. However, the team still found their try-out process to be as successful as previous semesters.

“With some students staying home this semester, we expected the numbers to be reduced, and we still got the same amount of amazing new members as we usually would,” said Maddie and Martha Peterson, co-presidents of club tennis and fourth-year College and Nursing students, respectively.

The team’s try-outs were greatly affected by COVID-19 guidelines. Club tennis reduced the number of people coming to the courts and only had two people hitting on a court at a time. Everyone wore masks and brought their own can of tennis balls, and members of the executive board were the only judges. Normally, the team has a large turnout for try-outs with multiple people on the courts and many current members judging the players.

The Petersons added that they made accommodations for students who were in quarantine at the time of try-outs to be able to join the team. These students are to contact the team once they get out of quarantine so they can be matched with another person trying out. One or two members of the executive board will watch them play.

“We knew that COVID would be an issue for some, so we let them know ahead of time that as long as they had signed up, they could try out after their quarantine,” Maddie Peterson said.

Though Virginia Dance Company also had a smaller audience on Zoom than they are used to, Allie Taylor, vice president of the company and a third-year Education student, said that she thought it created a more comfortable environment for students to ask questions. During Zoom sessions, current members discussed what the company does, time commitments of members and how to complete the audition process, which was advertised through social media. 

Virginia Dance Company had to completely rethink their recruitment for the semester, as auditions usually take place in-person and inside on Grounds. Dancers were required to send in videos demonstrating several dances and skills instead of auditioning in front of the current members of the company. The club typically has around 30 students audition at the start of the fall semester, but this semester they received 17 video submissions. 

Moving forward, social activities and practices will also look very different for club sports. An email sent from IM-Rec to leaders of Contracted Independent Organizations in August outlined how club sports would be allowed to gather while following rules enforced by University IM-Rec Sports. According to the email, club sports are allowed to reserve outdoor spaces for a maximum of 90 minutes three times per week. 

Club softball usually has games in the fall, but those games have been moved to the spring semester. So far, club softball has been practicing with 15 members on the field. With a roster of 20 girls, the team has to cut down who can come to practice. The team sent out Google forms to see who could come to what practice, and always had less than 15 girls with availability for each gathering.

“During drills we distance as much as possible,” Varney said. “We also follow the CDC regulations especially during drills when we have to come into closer contact by keeping masks on.”

However, with gatherings now limited to five people by the University, student engagement will be further reduced. Varney said that club softball will be sending out more Google forms to reconfigure their practice groups into groups of five girls. 

VASST usually has a large social presence in the fall semester, but they had to restructure due to University restrictions. The team still wants first years to be able to make friends in a safe way, so they are planning on having activities this semester in small, socially-distanced groups.

The team will most likely be able to ski and snowboard this winter because the sports easily allow for social distancing, and masks are usually worn anyways.

‘We will restructure transportation, to avoid crowded carpools, and I am sure Wintergreen will have limits regarding the number of people per chairlift,” Asquini said.

Similarly, tennis is an easy sport to keep socially distanced. With only two people allowed per court, practices are limited to singles matches, but signing up for practice times has been going well so far according to Martha and Maddie Peterson. 

As for social activities, club tennis has divided players into groups of five so new and returning members can get to know each other. 

“We will also be holding fun Zoom events in order for members who have not returned to grounds to see and interact with everyone,” Martha and Maddie Peterson said.

Virginia Dance Company will potentially hold Zoom classes to keep dancers in shape throughout the semester. The club cannot host their usual performance at the end of the semester, so these classes will take the place of rehearsals.

Instead of an in-person party this semester, Virginia Dance Company hosted a Zoom call to welcome the dancers that got in. Taylor noted that she was excited that the company was still able to recruit new members. 

This article has been updated.