Spring athletics canceled in response to COVID-19

Image courtesy of The Jack Kemp Foundation.

President Jonathan Veitch announced the cancellation of all Occidental Division III spring sports seasons March 12 in response to COVID-19. On the same day, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) canceled remaining winter and spring athletic championships, nullifying the March 11 NCAA decision to limit collegiate championship competition to essential personnel and a small number of family members.

According to baseball pitcher Nolan McCarthy (senior), spring season athletes were addressed by athletic director Shanda Ness in an assembly at Rush Gymnasium the morning of March 12, prior to the release of Veitch’s statement. McCarthy said before a March 11 game versus University of Rochester, their opponents were informed that it would be their last game of the season, giving Occidental players a glimpse at the emotional magnitude of a season cancellation.

“We had a pretty good idea it was coming, but the tears and reality of it didn’t hit until Shanda [Ness] told all of us,” McCarthy said via email. “Disbelief and sadness hit me immediately.”

Lacrosse defender Emma Barrow (senior) said her team was prepared to play Meredith College of North Carolina March 13, and was particularly disappointed because the team had already flown to Los Angeles for the match.

According to softball outfielder Cassie Carter (senior), some athletes hoped a senior celebration could replace the senior day that the majority of sports teams hold to recognize their graduating teammates, but were told such a gathering would not be possible.

“In the meeting when they told us our season was canceled, someone inquired about having an all spring sports senior day like Chapman and other SCIAC schools had,” Carter said via email. “But Dean Flot declined the request, stating it was a gathering of more than 50 people — which was ironic and confusing because we were in the gym with over 50 people.”

Such senior accomplishments celebrated may have included the D3baseball.com selection of McCarthy as Preseason First Team All-American, or perhaps the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) twice selecting Barrow as a member of the All-West Region First Team throughout her career at Occidental.

Ness said over her many years as a coach and athletics administrator, the news of the spring season cancellation was one of the most difficult messages she has had to deliver to athletes.

“I am heartbroken for our student athletes, and especially our seniors,” Ness said via email. “Having dedicated themselves to their program, only to have it come to such an abrupt end, is a very difficult situation to go through. With that being said, I am confident that our student athletes will, in time, manage the challenging situations that they now find themselves in, and continue to be amazing ambassadors for Oxy Athletics, and support each other during these challenging times.”

Two short sprinters on the track and field team, Tyler Webb (senior) and LaShauna Porter (senior), said the loss of the 2020 season was particularly devastating because the SCIAC championship meet was set to be hosted by Occidental. Webb, who finished second in the 100-meter dash in the 2019 SCIAC championship meet, said he was recovering well from a hamstring injury sustained early this season.

“I just barely missed qualifying for nationals last year, and I wanted that milestone more than ever in my last year,” Webb said via email.

Porter, the reigning SCIAC champion in the 100- and 200-meter races, said she hoped to earn All-American honors in both events to close out her collegiate career. She also said the SCIAC meet would have been her father’s first time watching her compete as an Occidental athlete.

“It will never feel the same to not compete as a Tiger again,” Porter said via email. “The last four years we have been working up to this moment in time, so for it to all be thrown away is devastating to say the least.”

Webb said the gravity of the unexpected season cancellation extended far beyond individual performance, as the track and field team had been working to heal together after the death of sprinter Jaden Burris (sophomore) in February.

“We had our last meet the first Saturday of break, and we were all pretty hyped about our potential as a team going into the break, especially with the still very recent loss of our brother Jaden,” Webb said via email. “We wanted to go out there and compete to our best potential and support one another to honor Jaden.”

Despite the uncertainty and confusion presented by the cancellation of spring seasons, these senior athletes all said that being a member of a sports team has proven advantageous over the past few weeks. According to Webb, the track and field team spent their last practice playing an intense game of capture the flag together. Barrow said lacrosse program alumni surprised seniors and joined the team for a celebratory brunch. Similarly, McCarthy said baseball seniors continued a team tradition of sharing a dinner with the coaching staff to commemorate the end of their careers.

“Being that the season ended the way that it did, this entire thing has put into perspective how you should run every race and compete in every game as if it’s your last, because you never truly know if it will be,” Porter said via email. “Never take any competition for granted, because you only get these few years to compete with the big ‘O’ on your chests.”