GAMBIER — Kenyon football coach James Rosenbury related the news of canceling sports for the rest of the calendar year to the five stages of grief.
“The shock wore off (Thursday),” he said. “I was a little angry (Thursday). Now, I’m just sad. I’m disappointed. I feel terrible for our seniors. I feel terrible for all of our student athletes because we’ve worked very hard.”
Rosenbury was preparing to begin his second season with the Lords, who went 3-7 overall and 2-7 in the North Coast Athletic Conference after back-to-back winless seasons.
“We had some success last year and we were looking to have some more this year,” Rosenbury said. “(Our seniors) were going to be a big part of that.”
Director of athletics Jill McCartney called the decision to cancel a “gut-punch for everyone.” Ultimately, though, it came down to numbers.
While the cases in Knox County are relatively low, the majority of Kenyon’s student population comes from outside of Ohio. It has 1,730 students from 48 states and 49 countries, according to its website.
“We draw from everywhere,” Rosenbury said. “That brings a unique set of challenges with it. Part of that is making sure that everybody’s safe and everybody’s healthy.”
The spike in cases around Ohio and the country led the Kenyon administration to rethink an earlier-announced plan to bring students back on campus early.
“Things changed drastically in terms of the surge of COVID,” McCartney said. “The college started rethinking its plans to adjust to the data. As that was happening, we were also thinking about how (athletics) could make this work. We were thinking about travel and keep everyone safe.
“So, we got to the point where we just didn’t feel like we could provide a safe environment for our student athletes, our coaches, staff and the Kenyon community.”
Kelly Bryan wears two hats at Kenyon. She’s the women’s soccer coach and she’s an assistant athletic director in charge of student-athlete services.
As Bryan was going through the process with the Kenyon leadership, she wondered if it was possible to play safely. It was a hard thing for her to admit to herself.
“I never want those words to come out of my mouth,” Bryan said. “My nature is to fight to the end. Even the day before the announcement was made, I was still throwing questions at (McCartney) and asking her, ‘Are we sure that we’re doing everything possibly can? Are we really done fighting?’ And the answers came back that we had literally done everything we can.”
Bryan felt like the administration went through the decision-making process correctly.
“I know that they all didn’t want this to happen,” she said. “From the president down and the board of trustees — none of them wanted this to happen. This was not the desired outcome. They were all there with us trying to fight to the end.
“But it got to the point where it just wasn’t feasible. I think it was a joint decision, but they all made sure that they had all of the information and they all made sure to ask the right questions. That made me happy just to know that it wasn’t something that was done lightly. It was really, really well-thought-out and considered.”
The decision was announced Tuesday afternoon and that night Rosenbury was on Zoom talking it through with his team.
“It was a really hard conversation,” he said. “They had a lot of questions that we didn’t have answers to. They are some really smart guys, so they’re questions were some next-level questions. It was hard, but it was good.”
The freshmen and sophomores will be allowed on campus during fall semester. The fall sports will be doing small individual workouts at first, then move up to five and gradually increase from there. The athletes will be tested throughout the process.
“We do plan to have in-person practices, training, conditioning in the fall for our teams,” McCartney said. “But we will be taking it incrementally and only progressing as is prudent. We have to crawl before we walk. We have to get our students acclimated on campus.”
“We’re all going to find some way to make this as meaningful as we can with what we are allowed to do,” Bryan said. “That’s where I’m shifting my focus. Right now, we just have to take care of (our athletes) first and help them figure what the choices are that are best for them. I think that’s the most important thing.”
Beyond fall sports is a question mark because a lot of the decisions that come for winter and spring are based on the COVID-19 numbers. McCartney mentioned a vaccine, but stopped short of calling it a necessity to be able to resume competition.
“The plan is, if things have progressed, we’ll bring everybody back,” she said.
Winter sports are in a holding pattern right now. The NCAC, which announced fall sports would play conference-only schedules, hasn’t made an announcement regarding the winter.
“Obviously, we’re not playing games in 2020,” men’s basketball coach Dan Priest said. “That’s probably the only positively, for-sure thing that we know. That dynamic of when can we bring our kids back together, I just don’t have the answer to that. That makes it a little challenging for kids to navigate through this.”
At Kenyon, those in winter sports will be like the rest of the campus, freshmen and sophomores on campus and juniors and seniors not.
“We will not be treating student-athletes differently than the rest of the student population,” McCartney said. “For Kenyon, that’s who we are. Athletics are important, obviously. But it’s part of the larger whole. We all need to be held to the same standards.”
That’ll make for a difficult lead-up to the winter season if it does get played.
“The pathway is certainly a challenge for us,” Priest said. “I think for the first semester, we’ll just try to do individual work with our guys. Then, try to do some group stuff with them and just see how things progress. If it looks like we’re going to have some form of a season, we’ll try to integrate the other guys.”
There are no scholarships in Division III, so senior athletes that decide to use their final year of eligibility next season will have to either pay for the extra semester or semesters or take some time off.
“That’s what puts winter sports in a little bit of a different situation is that you’d have to pay for two semesters,” Priest said.
For Rosenbury, his ultimate goal is to keep the team together. But he also understands the financial aspect of playing for Kenyon.
“The way that I’ve presented it to them is that I want to give them as much information as possible of what their options are,” Rosenbury said. “I don’t want to influence their decision one way or another. This is unique to them and it’s unique to their families. Whatever they decide, I will support 100 percent.”
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