Being a Wesleyan student goes far beyond the renowned education and experience. For some, that fulfillment comes from theater, student-run organizations, or community engagement. For others, it comes from athletics.
In the summer of 2014, like most high school students, I was anxious to find a school where I could challenge myself academically and partake in a variety of extracurricular activities. After visiting Wesleyan’s campus and spending the night with the baseball team, I knew right away this was where I belonged. Even as a 17-year-old kid, the Wesleyan baseball players then treated me as if I was a part of their family.
Fast forward one year later, I was proudly repping the Cardinal red and pitching in our first fall intrasquad scrimmage. Surprised by the Division III talent level, I found myself simply trying to finish each inning unscathed so I could breathe a sigh of relief on the bench. But before I could even record a single out, I felt a pop in my elbow. This injury sidelined me for the entire 2015-16 season and allowed me to get a medical redshirt, granting me an additional year of eligibility.
Following our crushing defeat to Williams in the final game of the 2019 campaign, I knew I wanted to return to Wesleyan to obtain my Master’s degree, play a fifth year of baseball, and eventually coach in 2021. Even with nine months to go until our first official practice, the entire team had February 15 circled on our calendars, eager to put aside last year’s disappointments. However, little did we know our season would end before it even commenced.
For those not familiar with the NESCAC schedule, spring athletes are limited to captain’s practices from the start of the school year until February 15, when official practices begin with coaches. Excitement slowly builds from September up until our two-week West Coast spring trip in early March. As our team diligently prepared for our season opener, news of the novel coronavirus disease COVID-19 spreading to the United States gradually percolated through campus. We didn’t think much of the threat and continued to focus on what we could control. Just before the trip, we were notified that the first portion of our trip to Los Angeles was canceled. After numerous flight rearrangements, we were finally able to fly to Arizona, where we thought we would salvage the remaining nine games of the trip. Three days later, we found out our entire season was canceled.
Student athletes across the country were devastated to hear that all NCAA 2020 spring sports were canceled. To be told that all the hard work building a championship-caliber team had been wasted, initially, was gut-wrenching. Representing the University on an athletic field is a privilege, and it is extremely unfortunate that most seniors will never have the opportunity to do that again.
However, it is important for student-athletes to put everything in perspective and understand that this crisis goes far beyond sports. My initial selfish reaction was how this virus affected me and our team’s season, and I failed to sympathize with the thousands of people infected with COVID-19, and quite frankly I’m disgusted by my own response. As much as it means to us to put on our uniforms and play the game we love, we must understand that the health risks are too great and that the common good of the community trumps the game of baseball.
Luckily for some, the NCAA granted every spring student-athlete an extra year of eligibility. For some graduating seniors, graduate school may not be in their plans, which unfortunately means the end to their college careers. On the other hand, there may also be a few seniors who are thinking of returning to Wes and taking advantage of the NCAA’s waiver. From someone who has gone through the process, my advice is simple: if the graduate program is right for you, come back and play. You will assume the role of an experienced leader who can offer invaluable wisdom and advice to the younger players. Most importantly, you will be able to play one more season of your favorite game in front of your friends and family. You’ll be able to play for a University you have hopefully grown to love all while working towards an amazing degree. I can honestly say I would not change my decision to return to Wesleyan, and do not regret it at all, even if I knew then how our season would end.
In the meantime, all we can do is cherish the memories we have of this curtailed season and be grateful for the relationships we have formed. There is definitely some solace knowing that every college program is in the same position. Everyone is feeling the same pain. Everyone is imagining hoisting up that season-ending trophy. But what can we do about it? We cannot control what has already happened. But we can make an impact when we can get back on that field, court, or track by heeding the advice and warnings given by healthcare officials. I implore every student to think of the COVID-19 victims and the healthcare providers who are risking their lives in treating the virus and to those scientists who are working 24/7 to find a vaccine.
Stay safe, Cardinals. I’m already looking forward to February 15.
Pat Clare can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.