A plan months in the making: How the college is keeping athletes safe from illness and injury

Once competitions begin, student-athletes will be tested up to three times a week. (Photo courtesy of Chuck Zovko)

As Lafayette’s athletes return to competition, the first and foremost priority of the Lafayette athletic department has been player safety. Months before the Leopards returned to play, the department was doing everything possible to ensure athletes could return to their sports without jeopardizing their health, Athletic Director Sherryta Freeman said. 

Now that the 2021 spring season has arrived, their plan is in full swing. Safety measures are being taken every step of the way by teams, including weekly COVID-19 testing for athletes, modified practice schedules and new rules during competition. 

“The way we practice and compete has not changed much,” said senior tennis player Dan Kramer. “The only difference is there is much less contact between athletes on both sides.” 

“Prior to COVID, I would shake my opponents hand after a match and high-five my doubles partner during a match, but now I touch racquets with them instead to avoid contact,” he added. 

The Patriot League does not require athletes to wear a mask during competition, as that would give many athletes trouble breathing. Masks are optional for players who would prefer to wear one.

The testing protocols for athletes are the same as for normal students until the season starts.

“All student-athletes are tested within the protocols of the entire student body,” Freeman said. “This includes a PCR [polymerase chain reaction] test once a week.”

In order to mitigate the risk of outbreaks, Lafayette also tests athletes around their playing schedule. 

“Once competitions begin, student-athletes also have additional testing measures beyond the PCR test according to the transmission risk of the sport as dictated by the NCAA re-socialization guidance,” she continued. “These measures include testing up to three times a week and in some cases, within 72 hours of competition.” 

A PCR test is considered “the gold standard” of COVID-19 virus detection by many healthcare professionals and can detect the virus even when an individual displays no symptoms. Results from a PCR test can also be received in 24 hours, although it usually takes 2-3 days. 

“I was originally scheduled to get tested every Monday, but now I get tested three days prior to my match that week,” Kramer said. “If I have a match on Sunday, I’ll have a test scheduled for Wednesday or Thursday so I have my results prior to the match. I do not get tested following a match.” 

Each team has a unique testing schedule. Teams involved in higher contact sports will be tested more frequently than teams that can socially distance themselves from their opponent. 

“Right now, our whole team gets tested on a fixed day once a week, but as soon as we start competing we will be tested three times a week,” said junior field hockey player Kara Tiedtke. 

One issue that has arisen from the administration is the handing out of neck gaiters. Multiple teams have been given Lafayette-branded neck gaiters, but the school does not approve of these as a substitute for masks. 

Aside from the coronavirus, another potential issue athletes face is injury. As Division I athletes, many of Lafayette’s players have never taken a full 11 months off from competition. The time off could come as a possible shock to athletes and while the rest has been good for some, too much rest can lead to injury. 

The Athletic Department is aware of these risks and is doing everything in its power to bring athletes back to competition safely, Freeman said. 

“The re-socialization and progression plans that we have adhered to were put in place to protect our student-athletes from increased injury risk in addition to minimizing the transmission of COVID-19,” she continued. “Although there was a prolonged period away from traditional training sessions, our student-athletes have been quite diligent in participation with their prescribed regimens. With their return to campus, our practices have been intentionally gradual and progressive with coordination between the coach, athletic trainer and strength and conditioning coach.”

Although athletes were away from competition for an extended period of time, teams set up meetings with their players to make sure the athletes stayed active. Zoom calls were set up between coaches and players and modified training regiments were handed out as well. 

Some athletes were also on campus last semester which allowed them to train with the Lafayette trainers and granted them access to the Kirby Sports Center.

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