Athletics respond to pandemic


Alumni Field, home of the Bluffton Beavers

Alumni Field, home of the Bluffton Beavers

athletics respond as beavers do
—by being resourceful

In the late 1920s, long-time coach and athletic director A.C. Burcky suggested the beaver as Bluffton’s mascot. His rationale, according to “Dancing with the Kobzar: Bluffton College and Mennonite Higher Education,” was beavers are resourceful, don’t tire easily, accomplish more with less and work hard to make the world a better place.

One hundred years later, this is exactly what today’s Bluffton Beavers are doing despite their seasons ending early, classes moving online and the difficulties of being separated from their friends and teammates due to the coronavirus.

“Without having much to compare to in this situation, I believe the team is responding well,” said Aaron Krepps, head football coach. “They would much rather be on campus, but we ‘adjust to and overcome adverse situations’ just as the Beaver Pledge tells us.”

Thankful for technology

Adjusting from an athletics standpoint means coaches are now hosting virtual team meetings via Zoom and other online communication platforms and increasing the number of texts and group chats among players.

“Of course they are upset that they can’t show the conference just how talented they are, but they understand that this is out of their control, and they have chosen to instead focus on what they can control—their training and academics. This excites me for next year.”

“Technology, cell phones, FaceTime, and Zoom have been awesome,” said Chad Shutler, head women’s basketball coach. “I can’t imagine how we would have navigated something of this magnitude 20 years ago.”

Team workouts are going out by email and vary by season and sport. Student-athletes in cross country and golf are able to maintain a semblance of normalcy in their training at home but challenges remain.

“Getting out the door on your own is a lot harder than it is for a team practice, but our men and women have done a phenomenal job of staying positive and motivated despite their circumstances,” said Logan Wells, head cross country coach. “To put in the work they are without an immediate race or competition on the horizon takes drive and determination. They have been an inspiration to me.”

Many field athletes as well as golfers have sent videos to their coaches for tips on technique. Golf is also concentrating on a sometimes-neglected aspect of the game.

“During this time, we are focusing on the mental aspect of golf,” said Craig. “We have looked at various articles and viewed different TED talks and videos to get better between our ears.”

Teams connect in new ways

Picking up a phone, as opposed to email or text, is becoming more commonplace as well.

“The topic of our communication varies from academics to basketball to simply the general topic of how they and their families are doing,” said Guy Neal, head men’s basketball coach.

Different approaches are being taken to promote team bonding as well. For example, men’s soccer has hosted team trivia nights, volleyball made a team “pepper” video and women’s soccer completed silly video challenges such as toilet paper juggling.

“Last week, part of the team ‘arrived’ to the Zoom meeting in their prom dresses,” said Amanda DeMoine, head softball coach. “This team continues to have a lot of fun together, and we have a couple of videos in the works right now.”

For Bluffton student-athletes, academics remain a priority. Coaches typically have students turn in grade and attendance checks when on campus. While online instruction does not perfectly replace the on-campus academic experience, professors and coaches are working together to do their best with the resources available.

“I have been in contact with several professors who are trying really hard to accommodate our students’ new situations,” said Shutler. “They are extending deadlines and bending over backward to work with not just our athletes but our students as a whole. I continue to be impressed by their sincere caring and commitment to our community.”

Recruiting from a computer

Coaches are also adapting to a new way of recruiting.

“Ninety percent of what I normally would be doing, I can’t do anymore,” explained James Grandey, head baseball coach. “Right now, we are working on the last few recruits for 2020, and we are beginning to lay the foundation with the 2021 class.”

Instead of attending games and meeting in person, coaches are connecting more directly with high school coaches electronically to get names of potential recruits. Admissions counselors have also transitioned to providing virtual tours to prospective students.

“Perhaps one benefit of high school students being encouraged to social distance and stay at home is there are fewer conflicts in their lives which allows potential recruits to sign up for virtual visits,” said Steve Yarnell, head volleyball coach.

“Zoom visits do not replace the impact of an in-person visit, but it is a great option for the situation we are in,” added Krepps. “Recruits and their families have provided positive feedback on our virtual visits.”

Final thoughts

“This situation has taught me to have a lot more trust in my players. I am sending them workouts and have to rely on them to follow through and keep their end up to progress as we continue our journey to progress as a team,” said Harry Kirwan, interim head men’s soccer coach. “We have a mutual understanding and the guys are responding excellently.”

“It is easy to be a happy and good person when things are going well, but you develop your character when times aren’t so good,” said Kevin Gregory, head women’s soccer coach. “I have been extremely proud of our group—with how they’ve handled themselves and looked after each other. We have a team full of very special people.”

“Our student-athletes have responded with such maturity and understanding that it has even taken me by surprise,” said Kaylea Jachno, head track and field coach. “Of course they are upset that they can’t show the conference just how talented they are, but they understand that this is out of their control, and they have chosen to instead focus on what they can control—their training and academics. This excites me for next year.”