Planning and Precautions enable MCC sports to resume practice in preparation for competition

By Garret Sulak

Campus was dotted with color as students, faculty, and staff returned to McLennan Community College for the first day of fall classes on Monday, Aug. 24. In accordance with rules set to protect everyone on campus, various colors of masks were on display and social distancing guidelines provided some extra breathing room while sitting in class or walking on campus.

MCC’s campus showed signs of life for the first time since March when classes and services moved online. The return to MCC’s campus has provided at least a slight sense of normalcy during this pandemic. Classes are being held on campus with precautions and athletes are allowed to practice while also taking special precautions.

Head men’s golf coach and history professor Vince Clark is adjusting to the new guidelines as he holds in-person classes and prepares his golf team to go on the road and compete this fall. Clark explained the masks are a “necessary nuisance” during lecture, but they have not prevented him from projecting his voice to the class. However, he said masks do prevent him from reading his students’ body language.

“After classes moved online and I started performing to an empty lecture hall in the spring and summer, I realized how much I enjoy my students’ company,” Clark said. “I really missed them, so I am glad to have them back with me in the room. I also learned that before the pandemic I relied upon reading faces.  Now all I can see are eyes above masks. I reckon I need to learn to read eyes.”

As a coach, Clark is also tasked with keeping his athletes safe while practice continues in preparation for events this fall. He explained that his team wears masks when entering the Cottonwood Creek or Bear Ridge golf courses for practice. Then they maintain social distance out on the course or on the range. The team is also able to isolate as seven of the nine players live in a duplex. Clark and his golf squad are ready to compete this fall and he is confident they can do so safely.

“We are grateful to our campus leadership for trusting us to go on the road to compete,” Clark said. “We have all already promised each other that we will take every appropriate precaution while traveling. This fall any of us can come down with the virus anytime and anywhere, but we are convinced that we can increase our chances for staying healthy by being smart and following the various guidelines. We are like a family under the same roof, which also makes the logistics of dealing with COVID easier.”

Allowing athletes and coaches back on campus to practice and eventually compete required extensive planning by MCC athletic director Shawn Trochim. She explained she spent about 8-12 hours per day from May until the first day of classes formulating a plan that included input from other athletic staff, athletic trainers, other athletic directors in the conference and the emergency operations team.

As part of the plan to hold practices, athletes are screened each day prior to practice to ensure they do not have a fever and are showing no symptoms of the virus. The plan also includes measures to take if an athlete tests positive. In this case, athletes and teams can quarantine in their duplex. In addition, to the use of masks and social distancing, bottles were purchased for each athlete to eliminate the use of shared-use water coolers.

When all sports resume competition in the spring, Trochim believes one of the main drawbacks will be that athletes might not be able to go support the other teams on campus. However, she believes the pandemic has taught everyone how to better adjust to changing situations.

“The pandemic teaches us to be fluid and accommodating all of the time,” Trochim explained. “The leadership team is committed to athletics here at McLennan and as with everything this could change. I, as the leader of the athletic department, have to be prepared to make tough decisions.”

Just like the opening of campus, the return of sports signals a return to some sort of normalcy. With precautions in place, MCC is committed to returning to the court or field so athletes have the chance to compete.

“Competition is a big part of the games we play,” Clark said. “Competition is what our athletes, who are gifted with great talent, train to do. Life will feel more normal for athletes, coaches, families, and fans when we get back to competing in sports.” 

Garret Sulak is an athletics marketing graduate assistant at McLennan Community College. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University, where he interned for two years with LSU athletic communications. He enjoys playing golf, fishing, hunting, and attending sport events. He is an avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers. He is currently a graduate student at Baylor pursuing a master’s degree in sport management.​

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