Winter Extracurriculars in Socially Distanced Times
February 2, 2021
Despite the pandemic, Westtown Athletic Directors Paul Lehmann and Mich Canuso-Bedesem have been working hard to find ways to allow student athletes to safely participate and even compete in co-curriculars. This winter season, girls and boys basketball, coed swimming, and coed indoor track will be competing.
“The thing that’s so difficult is that we know how important sports are to many of our student athletes and we strive every day to find opportunities for our students to train, and play and develop. And yet we also need to balance that with the health and safety of individuals in our community and the ever-changing landscape of what’s safe and what’s not safe,” Canuso-Bedesem said.
Regarding Westtown Athletics’ Covid-19 protocols, Lehmann and Canuso-Bedesem have spent months figuring out how to compete in situations that are as low-risk as possible.
“Our Covid protocols have been developed in conjunction with recommendations from the National Federation of High School Sports as well as our league, the Friends School League,” said Canuso-Bedesem. “Everyone has to wear masks at all times, even when competing, and there are no spectators at events. We are requiring that any team we play has the same health screening protocols that we have.”
“We have certain, more rigid health safety protocols around athletic training and what they are able to do with visiting teams. “We have separate training treating tables, for example, for visiting teams when they come,” Canuso-Bedesem added.
When asked whether there will be spring competitions for teams not competing this winter, such as wrestling, the athletic directors said their hope is that games and meets will resume, but that everything will depend on the situation with the virus.
“If we find ourselves in a different place as a county, state, and country, and [if] vaccines have been effectively rolled out to where we felt comfortable getting back to wrestling as a school, that would be something we would consider moving to the spring, especially given that they are not going to have a traditional winter season, so that’s been discussed,” said Lehmann.
Although there are no guarantees, the school is sensitive to the fact that student athletes have missed out on important events and milestones and are eager to compete. For fall athletes who did not have a chance to compete interscholastically, Lehmann said the directors are looking for opportunities to play and compete.
“We continue to be in conversation with our league schools about if there might be an opportunity, whether it is a weekend tournament or another smaller opportunity for our athletes to compete this year, and that’s a big question mark, but something we’re exploring” Lehmann explained.
For the athletic directors and athletes alike, sports are an important part of everyday life.
“The thing that’s so difficult is that we know how important sports are to many of our student athletes and we strive every day to find opportunities for our students to train, and play and develop, and yet we also need to balance that with the health and safety of individuals in our community and the ever-changing landscape of what’s safe and what’s not safe,” Canuso-Bedesem said.
One co-curricular activity has actually flourished during the pandemic. Westtown’s ESports league has “come into its own” over the past year, Lehmann said.
“A lot of the success of our ESports League can be attributed to Nate Venditta, Mauricio Torres, and Becky Wilkinson, who have stepped in as coaches over the past ten months or so,” said Lehmann. “We started a varsity program this fall, and it has been really cool to see them compete competitively in the league, Player Versus. We have competed in Rocket League and League of Legends. It’s been neat, and they’ve been playing interscholastically and had a heck of a season this year and a ton of success,” Lehmann added.
If Canuso-Bedesem and Lehmann could give one piece of advice to student athletes this year, it would be to stay connected.
“I think staying connected to that sport community is critical, whether you are following collegiate sports or Instagram accounts for top programs, and also finding ways to train and push yourself,” Canuso-Bedesem stressed. “It takes more discipline to do that outside of a team situation, but it is very possible, and you can find an accountability partner to check in with and keep you on track, so looking for opportunities to train and stay connected is important.”
Lehmann added that Strava, a mobile running log app, has been especially successful in keeping runners motivated and connected.
“Strava has been an important role in keeping the community of runners together who are spread out across the world, and it keeps you accountable. I’ve been grateful for Strava in our role as athletic directors because we can see how it impacts the team, and it also keeps me more accountable to put the miles in myself,” Lehmann noted.