The Pandemic vs Athletes Determined to Play

A deeper look into staff, and student’s, experiences in their sports during this troubling time, and how they overcame obstacles thrown in their way.



The HC Cross Country team, along with Brennan Wyckoff before the 2020 Oak Ridge Park Invitational. November 21st, 2020 in Clark, NJ.

Aaron Engelhardt, S! Journalism Student

Virtual school is done. Drive to practice. Don’t forget a mask. Submit the 12 question form. Get a temperature check. Keep the mask on for the warm-up. Social Distance. Practice. Mask back on. Repeat the next day.

This is a normal day in the life of Thomas Schmitt and Brennan Wyckoff, student-athletes in high school during the pandemic. Every student-athlete is following the same guidelines. Are these athletes complaining? Not so much, they are just happy to have a season. 

Coaches, students, and parents are trying to keep everyone safe whilst still managing a sports season. To pull this off is a feat like none other. Coaches, staff, and parents know sports are a huge factor in student’s mental health and future. They couldn’t risk losing that.

Covid Precautions

Thomas Schmitt is a senior on Hunterdon Cental’s varsity soccer team, and Brennan Wyckoff is a senior on the cross-country team. Just like other student-athletes Thomas and Brennan had to follow strict covid guidelines that the team, school, and state put in place. Brennan stated that the guidelines, whilst necessary “hurt the team atmosphere”. The players are not the only ones who have to follow the rules. There was a 500 person spectator limit that the school put in place. This year spectators had to get tickets for games to ensure that limit is not exceeded. Spectators also had to wear masks at all times. 

“Most other schools allow spectators with seemingly fewer rules than Central,” Schmitt said. Brennan explained that most cross-country races only allowed “close family members” to come, whilst wearing masks. 

Jesse Spencer, the Athletic Director is the one administering these rules to coaches and athletes. He explained that the NJSIAA has been issuing guidelines that he needs to enforce, such as masks, social distance, temperature checks, questionnaires, and equipment cleaning. “No specific spot gave us a hard time. Parents, athletes, administrators and coaches have done a tremendous job contributing and making sure the athletes stay safe so their sports can still go on,” Spencer said.

Covid rules and guidelines are not the only challenges these student-athletes are facing. 

Loss of playtime

Most teams, including Hunterdon Central’s varsity soccer team, lost many games. The games they lost were some of the most important, the majority of them being post-season games. Post-Season games happen outside of a school’s conference (ex. states) and are usually more important than the regular season. Hunterdon Central varsity soccer went on to win the sectional championship (local) but were not able to advance onto states. For many players, including Thomas, this is a devastating disappointment. “Missing out on states is a big loss for the team and the seniors,” Schmitt said.

“The Cross Country team was the best it has been in many years, and we would have moved on,” (Top Groups) Wyckoff said. “We worked really hard during the summer to get to this point.” The cross-country team qualified to move onto the post-season just like the soccer team did, but those larger events were shut down. The challenges created from covid don’t end there. 

College Recruiting

Many seniors such as Thomas are looking to play in college, and this recruiting process has become a lot more difficult. “Scouts can’t travel easily and can’t walk up and talk like they usually do,” Schmitt said. These scouts are some of the main ways colleges recruit athletes, and it has now become a major challenge. Athlete’s communication with coaches has to be completely virtual, this issues a loss of connection between the coach and team resulting in a harder decision. Thomas also relayed an interesting point, if a season gets shut down due to exposures on the team, then there is no way for coaches to even see videos of athletes playing. 

Covid Exposures

Covid exposures on teams became a very real possibility for many high school teams. “I saw it happen to neighboring schools,” Schmitt said, and a few weeks later it happened to Hunterdon Central’s varsity soccer team. There was a confirmed case on the team, and they had to quarantine for two weeks. Luckily they were able to come back only missing a few games. 

Brennan mentioned that there were “no covid cases on the team”, but “me and two other seniors had to quarantine” because they had close exposure to someone with covid during a race. After quarantining for two weeks and testing negative for covid, these seniors were able to return only missing one or two races.

The Risk at Hand

Health and safety was a top priority for teammates and the coaches, but there is an inherent risk and we need to accept that risk.”

— Brennan Wyckoff

Health and safety was a top priority for teammates and the coaches, but there is an inherent risk and we need to accept that risk. Even with all of these precautions in place, it is pretty obvious that there is a very real risk of exposure that students and coaches are taking. Athletes are coming in very close contact with each other, and there is really no way to prevent that. “Health and safety was a top priority for teammates and the coaches,” Wyckoff said, “but there is an inherent risk and we need to accept that risk.” Athletes and coaches are potentially sacrificing their health, and the health of those around them but by attending they are accepting that reality. 

“It’s Just Sports”

Some question why sports are happening during the pandemic and at first glance it doesn’t seem great, but when you look deeper it becomes clear. High school athletes are shaping their future, and they need sports to do so. Some will go on to play in college, and they need to prove themselves now. Even those who don’t plan to play in college really need their seasons. For many athletes, their sport helps their mental health and gives them a feeling of self-worth. These sports are what get them out of bed every day, it’s their motivation. These students and coaches all accepted the health risk because they knew how important high school sports really are. 

What’s to come

All fall outdoor sports took place as usual. Fall indoor sports such as volleyball and gymnastics were delayed into the winter. The new task at hand for athletic director Jesse Spencer is to manage indoor sports. The main problem is the lack of airflow. Many indoor sports are starting up, but will they be able to last? It is going to be a much greater feat than fall. Some winter sports are even trying to compete and practice outdoors. Some hockey and winter track teams are moving outdoors. Most winter sports, whilst delayed, are planned to take place (excluding wrestling). Winter sports are going to be a huge challenge for coaches, students, and parents.


These students are trying to live out the best years of their lives, and the pandemic has put that on hold. These sports are what keeps them happy and healthy during this time of isolation. Everyone knows the risk at hand, but they also know the benefits. These students are incredibly grateful that their seasons took place. If wearing a mask and social distancing meant they were able to continue playing, they were ready to adapt and overcome.