In a decision that shocked collegiate athletes across the country, the NCAA cancelled all remaining winter championships as well as the entire spring athletics season March 12 due to concerns about the coronavirus (COVID-19).
It took only a few minutes for the news to reach the five members of the women’s track and field team who had already made the trip to Winston-Salem, N.C., for the Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships. The five athletes—seniors Sadie Saxton, Caroline Shipley, Emma Beane, Morgen Gallagher and junior Brittney McKinley—were on-site at the JDL Fast Track facility when the cancellation was announced.
The decision caught the athletes and their coaches off guard.
“There were definitely moments where we questioned if NCAAs’ would be cancelled, but most people were telling us that championships are fine,” said Saxton, who was part of Bowdoin’s distance medley relay team, in a phone interview with the Orient. “[We had heard the NCAA would] finish up the [winter] seasons as normal. I think you believe what you want to believe, so we were like, ‘Okay, great, we’re going.’”
Athletes nationwide found themselves in similar positions, as the NCAA did not communicate with individual colleges about potential cancellations until March 12. By then, a number of championship events were already underway.
“The first we heard about the winter championships being cancelled was a little after four o’clock [that day],” said Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan in a phone interview with the Orient. “We could see a little bit of the writing on the wall as situations were developing across the country, and certainly with the actions taken by the NBA [which suspended its season indefinitely on March 11].”
For Saxton, it was difficult news but a necessary decision.
“It was definitely emotional. We were upset and a little angry about it, but I think all of us, looking back, would say that it was the right decision,” Saxton said. “There’s no precedent for this, so I can’t really say that they should have done X, Y or Z better.”
McKinley, the only non-senior athlete at the meet, agreed.
“I understand that there was a lot of panic, and at the end of the day, I think that it was a good call. It wasn’t just track, it was everything,” said McKinley in a phone interview with the Orient. “I just think that track got the rougher end of the deal because everyone was [already] in North Carolina.”
Ryan conveyed his sympathy for the athletes, especially to the seniors, who will miss out on the culminating event of their seasons or of their careers.
“I hope they will be able to reflect on the entirety of their experience at Bowdoin as a student and as a member of our athletic programs, and think about the great relationships and the great experiences that they had,” he said. “And hopefully those experiences will outweigh the disappointment.”
McKinley said she is encouraged by the prospect of being back on campus in the near future, though she will miss her senior teammates.
“While it all does suck right now, especially for the seniors, it is all going to go back to normal at some point,” she said. “This will be a memory, and even though we’re living in it right now, it’s going to be okay eventually.”