Grappling with a sportless semester at all levels

UC Berkeley Women's Field Hockey
Ruby Sapia/Staff

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With the media busy covering the Pac-12’s recent decision to keep game schedules within the conference and the Ivy League’s decision to cancel sports for the fall semester with no clear return date, the fate for some of our school’s best athletes seems to have been pushed under the rug. What will fall semester be like for UC Berkeley’s intramural MVPs? Or the washed-up first-team-all-conference-four-year-letter-winning high school athletes who anchor our club soccer, sailing and squash teams?

Many professional and collegiate sports leagues in the United States are finally starting to realize that returning to play amid record-breaking numbers of daily coronavirus cases is both risky and insensitive — as would be resuming club and intramural sports at universities. Though some are still clinging on to the small (nonexistent?) sliver of hope that we could make it through the fall without the complete cancellation of sports, a sportless semester is nonetheless a sobering realization that intramural enthusiasts and club sport stars would have to find new outlets for the following aspects of sports that make them so great.

  1. The competition

If you thought UC Berkeley students were cutthroat in the classroom, try the intensity at Witter Rugby Field on Wednesday evenings — there’s a reason previous intramural championship T-shirts say “BLOOD, SWEAT, CHAMP” on the back.

Should 24-hour open-note online exams be the only source of “competition” this fall, the folks who take intramural and club sports most seriously will spend their Zoom classes itching for the exhilaration of a shoulder-to-shoulder race down a sideline, the chance to swat an opponent’s laughable attempt at a midrange jumper and the satisfaction of a come-from-behind victory. As a result, every other aspect of their daily lives will become a competition to fill the void left by their respective sports cancellations: Which roommate can fold their laundry the fastest? Can you beat the time Google Maps suggests it takes to walk to Caffe Strada? Does the “Kobe” of your wadded-up paper towel find the trash can before the microwave goes off?

While winning a game of virtual Kahoot against the peers in your discussion can certainly bring an adrenaline rush, the competition quarantine offers student-athletes (of all levels) is far from that experienced in an “official” match on IMLeagues.

  1. Social interaction

For many intramural and club sport participants, their practices and games are as much athletic events as they are social outings. After being cooped up in the classroom all day, nothing is better than catching up with your buds at lacrosse practice or a Frisbee game. And — because these functions are scheduled every week — the effort of planning the “hangout” has already been taken care of! Alas, without any organized sports, someone in the group has to actually take initiative and send the Zoom link for your public-health-approved social hour.

Cal’s recreational sports are also a great way to meet people. Incoming freshmen who, pre-COVID-19, might have utilized sports as an avenue to make new friends will miss out on what (at least for me, personally) have been college-shaping experiences. Not only will ways to meet like-minded, work-hard-play-hard peers be limited, but virtual team bonding also pales in comparison to regular team bonding. All the laughs that come with team travel, whether with a club team across the country or with your intramural team piled into a car to get to Maxwell Family Field on time, will be silenced until spring.

  1. Exercise

The exercise aspect of sports for intramural and club athletes alike is the feature that most easily can be made up for even if all organized sport-related events are canceled, but is the feature that is also the most likely to have been taken for granted. Running, lifting and cycling on one’s own are perfectly sufficient means of getting the exercise you would have gotten out of a club or intramural game. However, finding the motivation to do so without the help of a team structure can be rather difficult.

This fall, members of club teams such as Cal Triathlon may be better equipped to take on their sport during quarantine. Team members are still able to do assigned workouts on their own around the neighborhood. But for three-on-three intramural basketball players? The team’s “flow” will certainly be compromised if unable to play in person, and you’re on your own to keep practicing your shot … if you can find an open gym … and are down to do so while still wearing a mask.

  1. A break

Last, but certainly not least, a sportless semester means Cal’s coveted club and intramural athletes must find another way to take ever-important mental health breaks — the carefree state of such competition will be hard to replace. While on the pitch, court or rink, it’s as if nothing else matters. That 11:59 p.m. project deadline? Irrelevant during your 8-9 p.m. flag football game. The stress of approaching midterms that is normally on one’s mind? Replaced by drill patterns and scrimmage scores during club soccer practice.

Should your study break replacement be a quick episode of “New Girl,” you may feel guilty the whole time, as simply closing the Netflix tab would bring you back to the blinking cursor on the blank Google Doc that prompted the break in the first place. Or, you could easily end up watching five more episodes after that. 

But using sports as a study break is different. You’re not going to whip out your laptop from left field during your intramural softball game, so you can erase the thought of school altogether. And, once the game hits the 50-minute mark, you finish the inning then go home — there’s no five-second “Next game?” button encouraging you to do otherwise.

For the sports world, July 2020 has the feels of November *insert year of the Christmas you officially found out Santa isn’t real.* Sports should, as much as it pains me to say it, take a rain check until 2021. No one wants to believe or accept it, but the grim reality of our country is that new cases are coming in every day at unprecedented rates, and a widely produced, effective vaccine is far from reality. 

Just as there were speculations and discussions about Santa’s existence at my third grade lunch tables, there’s been whispers and suggestions that sports this fall, at any level, may be best not played. But, until there’s an official statement from campus, I don’t want to believe it either. 

It is comforting to know though, that, even after I saw my dad putting a “from Santa” present under the tree with my own eyes, confirming Santa’s fictional character, the holiday season could still be enjoyed. Should a sportless semester become reality, students are just going to have to get creative.

Allie Coyne writes for Bear Bytes. Contact her at [email protected].