Supported by a campus community that boasts a vaccination rate of 99% and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Bowdoin’s athletic department is preparing to return to an unabbreviated schedule of competition for the first time since the fall of 2019.
For many coaches who have been unable to bond with their athletes and watch them compete for the past 18 months, this hint of normalcy brings a blend of emotions: joy, disbelief and relief.
“I have to pinch myself every day I see our cross country team out practicing and the entire team is together and not in small boxes on Zoom,” Head Coach of Men’s and Women’s Track and Field LJ Que said. “I’m feeling a boatload of gratitude that the College and community has been so diligent with getting vaccinated.”
Que believes the upcoming athletic season will help herself and her athletes treasure the opportunity they have been given and take a pause to hone in on the underlying aspects of competition.
“I think there is going to be a greater focus on the mental prep, more than ever, in this year as compared to previous years, just because we haven’t been in uniform for a while,” Que said. “The other coaches and I will be really focusing on the mental prep of competitions, simulating races at practice and setting goals—realistic goals.”
However, despite the excitement shared by all, athletes, coaches and staff alike will attempt to remain cautious and vigilant. With the ever-increasing spread of the Delta Variant of COVID-19, the athletic department plans to implement strict protocols surrounding competition despite the campus’ high vaccination rate.
“We’re going to follow strict guidelines in terms of only competing against teams that have fully vaccinated students and staff,” Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan said. “If members of other teams [are not vaccinated], we’re going to test them and require them to wear a mask during competition. If our opponents are unwilling to follow those guidelines, we will look to identify new sources of competition for our teams.”
The College will also utilize and enforce a new spectator policy for home competitions, as introduced to the public on Wednesday morning.
“Based on CDC recommendations from the state of Maine and federally, we are saying everyone who comes to campus as a spectator has to be fully vaccinated and show proof of vaccination,” Assistant Athletic Director for Facilities and Event Management Kevin Loney said.
The spectator policy, although seemingly straightforward, does not come without its own set of questions and concerns. “The challenge becomes if you can’t get vaccinated, for example if you’re under the age of 12, you aren’t able to come to [Bowdoin] events. So [the athletic department] is still trying to figure that out,” Loney said.
Despite Bowdoin’s strict protocols regarding vaccination records and testing for students and spectators, athletes will experience more leniency and fewer regulations than they did last spring.
“The biggest change that is a benefit of the vaccination effort is we will be able to compete without masks on, whereas last year all of our athletes who practiced and competed were masked at all times,” Ryan said.
Looking ahead to the busy fall competition schedule that looms on the horizon, Ryan remains optimistic yet wary.
“I’m encouraged by the increased opportunities our students will have in light of the vaccination records by the College and by the teams with which we will compete,” Ryan said. “We will move forward with safety as the number one priority, governing all decisions we make.”
Loney echoed Ryan’s sentiments, placing emphasis on each individual’s duty to protect the Bowdoin community as a whole.
“[The athletic department] just asks that people continue to be patient and careful,” Loney said. “We want everybody to have the Bowdoin [athletic] experience they deserve, and the way we do that is looking out for each other and keeping each other safe. It’s the common good.”