Looking Ahead: State High Winter Sports in a Pandemic

Lily Bang, a State High junior and varsity swimmer, at preseason practice on Nov. 13. The swim team’s season begins officially with regular practices on Nov. 20.

Photo Courtesy of Lily Bang

Lily Bang, a State High junior and varsity swimmer, at preseason practice on Nov. 13. The swim team’s season begins officially with regular practices on Nov. 20.

Sophia Bills, Staff Writer

The State High athletics community is working to create a safe, enjoyable experience for everyone involved in school sports this year despite the challenges the pandemic poses. The high school winter sports season will begin officially on Nov. 20. The majority of practices and competitions throughout the season will be held indoors, posing COVID-19 safety risks. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) indoor activities carry a higher risk of coronavirus infection than outdoor ones, as there is less space for distancing and poorer ventilation. No matter whether they are indoors or outdoors, in the pool, locker room, or on the court, State High’s athletes and coaches recognize the importance of communication, teamwork, and flexibility when keeping each other safe this season.

Lily Bang, a junior and varsity swimmer for the State High swimming and diving team, has not let the pandemic lessen her dedication to her sport. She acknowledges the risks the pandemic poses for athletics, but believes that they are outweighed by the benefits. 

“[Swimming is] still such a great sport that I love and have a great time doing, that I couldn’t not do it,” Bang, who has been swimming competitively since fourth grade, said. “It’s a great team and a lot of fun and it just makes me a better student overall,” she remarked. 

Bang is looking forward to the season and trusts that her teammates and coaches are doing all that they can to follow safety procedures and keep each other healthy. 

“I think that we’re taking as many precautions and still being safe even though you can’t wear a mask at practice,” Bang said of the swim team. 

She added that so far, throughout her experience in the preseason, she is still becoming familiarized with the sports safety measures, but she feels comfortable with them so far and is eager to spend more time back in the water. 

Brian Scholly, the boys’ varsity basketball head coach, shared a similar sentiment on learning pandemic procedures during the preseason time. He expressed that for the basketball team, safety comes before building skills. 

“We’re trying to make the habits that come with following our protocols as normal as possible so that when they become habits, then we can get back to ‘okay, let’s focus on trying to become a better basketball player,’” Scholly said.

 The safety measures for athletics this winter come from the State College Area School District’s Health and Safety Team, which is composed of district officials and community medical experts. Loren Crispell, the Assistant Athletic Director for the district, is grateful to have this group working with him and the athletics department. 

“The Health and Safety Team, which is led by Jeanne [Knouse], is just this wonderful resource. They are top-notch minds, they are accessible, and they are team players, so they’ve been tremendous throughout,” Crispell said. 

When comparing fall and winter seasons, Crispell expressed that more emphasis will be placed on communication and persistence when it comes to keeping each other healthy and having a successful season. 

“I think we just want to be more diligent as far as reminding our teams and coaches what the mask protocols are, when they need to be distanced, which is pretty much all the time, how frequently they need to be wiping down surfaces and sanitizing surfaces, and sanitizing balls and equipment and things of that nature,” Crispell said. 

He believes that the strong risk-mitigation framework built in the fall season will hold up to whatever the winter has in store, meaning that the winter safety protocols will remain largely the same as those of fall.

For everyone involved in the athletics community, this season will be different from those of the past and pose many challenges, but the goal of coaches and team members is to have as normal of an experience as possible. 

“I think we all just have to go into the season with a positive attitude rather than think about how different it’s gonna be, treat it as if it’s like a normal year in terms of, like, we’re gonna go get this done and we’re gonna win and work hard and reach our goals,” Bang said. 

Bang believes that the dedication and goals of her teammates and coaches will remain unchanging, and is going to work just as hard as she would in any other season.  Like Bang, Scholly is entering the season with optimism. 

“Nothing beats just getting to spend some time with [the team] and working to get better every day in the gym with them,” he said. 

Scholly stated that for the basketball team, the aim of each season is to create the best experience for the players, and that this year, there is simply more that goes into making that happen. Crispell echoed Bang and Scholly’s positivity for the upcoming season, adding that lessons can be learned from the experiences of fall sports. 

“One thing the fall taught is that change has been rather constant,” Crispell said. “And so we’re optimistic that we can pull [the winter season] off, but I think going into it now after having a fall season under our belts, […] we know that no matter what happens this winter, there will be frequent and constant change, and we just try to be ready for that.” 

Regardless of what twists and turns are ahead this winter,  the State High athletics community will do their best to make the season safe and fun, with the cooperation of student-athletes, coaches, and families.

In the end, Crispell’s advice to athletes is to take advantage of the present. 

“Tomorrow could get changed at a moment’s notice, so we have today and we have to get the most of today, whether it’s practice, or a game, or a workout, or just the opportunity to lift a teammate, or the opportunity to ask the most of yourself in a practice, to empty the gas tank and make sure you left everything on the field or on the court, and did everything you could to be the best version of yourself you could today,” Crispell said. “We have today, you have to enjoy today, you have to be grateful for today, and make the most of it while we have that chance.”