By: Lucy Brinkman | November 10, 2020
It goes without saying that this has not been an easy year. Coming back to school has looked a lot different this fall, and a major part of that change for many students was the cancelled sports for the entire 2020/21 season. Schools all over the province are reacting to a September with no home openers, no competition, and in some cases, no athletics at all. Despite this massive loss, Redeemer has adapted well as a school, and our athletes remain in good spirits. What does it look like to be an athlete when your sport isn’t happening? Does Redeemer offer something to its athletes in a year like this that other schools in the OCAA doesn’t?
I checked in with a number of athletes across sports to provide some insights into these questions, and find out how they are reacting to the current situation.
First, I spoke with David Mantel, our Athletic Director about why Redeemer is uniquely positioned in this pandemic- we have the opportunity to continue with in person learning, which has led to us being able to continue with certain athletic activities as well. Mantel explains this more.
“We have come to realize that the response to this pandemic varies greatly from sport to sport, province to province, and institution to institution. This is what has made decision making for the OCAA difficult – the wide variety of responses, thoughts, and suggestions. At many colleges, their athletic facility has been retasked to serve academic programs that require larger classroom spaces due to social distancing. Without facility space, they are extremely limited in what they can offer to student-athletes. At Redeemer, we have a few classes using the gym during the week, but we still had enough time and space to move ahead with regular team training (or at least modified team training!) Our aim was (and still is) to offer athletic programming that is engaging our student-athletes and giving them an opportunity to make improvements to their individual games as well as to the overall team performance.” Athletes at Redeemer are blessed to be able to be practicing and growing as teams during this time off from competition.”
The opportunity to continue holding formal practices, opening up the weight room to students, as well as providing additional training through OK fitness is one that our school cannot take for granted. With gyms around the province being shut down, the ability to come in daily and practice our sports or get in a workout is a privilege.
This being said, athletes have lost a lot this year. I spoke with a number of student athletes who expressed what it is exactly they would miss about playing their sport this year. Michelle Wright, who is on the women’s cross country team had this to say on the changed season.“As simple as it sounds, I miss running with my team. Team runs were some of my favourite moments throughout the busy weeks of classes and assignments. For practices, we’d drive to nearby trails, running under tunnels of trees but since I don’t have a car, I’m now often stuck running through suburban Ancaster.” Maria VanVark who plays on the women’s volleyball team said this: “What I miss the most is the competition. Not only playing other schools but everything competition brings with it. I miss the bus rides, the bonding over competition with the team, watching and cheering on our men’s team. Practicing is always good but not being able to actually play and use what we learn in more than during practices is what I miss.” Other athletes expressed this sentiment as well, Maddi Cohoon is a transfer student from Macmaster, now in the education program at Redeemer and playing on the women’s basketball team, and she had this to say on the lack of competition. “Like all athletes, I crave the opportunity to compete. Of course, there are alternate ways to fill this void such as shooting competitions at practice, weight room challenges, and post practice suicides that turn to races; but there is still nothing comparable to lacing up your shoes and hitting the court with your team.” With no formal competition, there seems to be a gap in the athletic program. So what are athletes setting their sights on? What are their goals and visions for the next year?
VanVark spoke about her goals and how as a senior she wants to take this opportunity to invest in younger members of the team. “My biggest goal is to help the others on the team to be the best players they can be and to use this time to work harder than we ever had. Another goal is to use this opportunity to try and mentor the younger athletes. They have years to still play and are the future of our Royals program that we are all so proud of so I want to leave them with the opportunity to be the best they can be and to help them the best I can with the experience I have gained over the years here at Redeemer.”
Cohoon elaborated on the position she is in, and how a year off actually has benefits for her as a transfer student. “For me, I have been out of basketball for over 5 years now as I chose to pursue rugby at the provincial, National, and university level. Unlike my teammates, this year’s season would have been a “bonus” for me as I only have one year of eligibility remaining; therefore, prior to the pandemic I was going to need to choose which year of my two-year program I would compete. This “extra” time will allow me to get the basketball rust off and bring back my muscle memory. But also, as a team, we are fortunately being supported by Redeemer’s Athletic department in terms of granting us the ability to continue training. With our team only losing one athlete to graduation, we now have an extra-long ‘off-season’ that will allow us to grow individually and as a team.” Cohoon expressed some of her goals for the season as well. “Personally, I want to find my role on the team and put my focus on that. It may not be to have the highest shooting percentage but rather to increase intensity, defense, secure loose balls, rebounding, positive/frequent talk, assists, steals, running the court. Also, on a personal note, I wish to enhance team culture and bring out the best in my teammates. There’s no doubt that building as individuals and as a team is being challenged this year. But I would love to see us grow exponentially through this.”
Joshua Sloots, who plays on the men’s soccer team expressed some of the benefits of cancelled games, saying that “we now have more time to work on fitness and specific skills, plus we now have weekends to do other fun activities and school.” When asked about his goals, Sloots expressed that he aims to do the 40m dash in under 5.5 seconds, do all his readings with the extra time and work out more. Wright also expressed her goals saying that “One of my goals is to take advantage of this unique season and put more time into training and conditioning at my own pace, meanwhile, not stressing myself out about competition.”
The rookie experience is specifically unique this year, with an intro into Redeemer athletics that is so different than what it normally is. Practicing with no concept of what it’s like to compete at this level is especially challenging, and can be discouraging. I spoke with Karyn Tebrake, a rookie on the women’s basketball team and asked what her experience as a first year player has been like. “It’s tough being a rookie this year because everyone was looking forward to being a part of a new environment where you get to play with a bunch of girls who love the game as much as you do. But now with covid that is not possible.” She expressed the upsides of this year as well however, saying “There are many benefits to this new situation. It allows us to all focus on more individual development as players which you do not normally get because practices were mainly focused on team development. My goals this season is to really focus on my development as an individual player and to really work on my fitness so that I am ready for the next season.”
Overall, Redeemer’s student athletes are in good shape; emotionally, spiritually and physically. While there is discouragement over what has been lost, there is also hope for new opportunities and growth that we will see in the months to come. Redeemer’s Royals continue to demonstrate their hard work ethic, their passion for their sport and their commitment to excellence.