The word “unusual” may be putting it lightly for collegiate athletic programs across the United States in 2020-2021.
Athletic departments, including at the University of Mobile, saw spring athletic seasons for several sports come to an abrupt halt due to the global COVID-19 pandemic that swept across the United States in early 2020. Teams at UM that saw their seasons end early or canceled before they even began included baseball, softball, tennis, indoor and outdoor track & field, and golf. With obvious sadness and disappointment from student-athletes and coaches, it was on to what was next going into spring semester 2021, including how the UM Athletic Department would grow during this unusual time.
With the pandemic still occurring in August 2020 and numerous colleges struggling not only to schedule athletic seasons for their programs, but struggling with student enrollment in general, the University of Mobile saw numbers in enrollment and athletics only rise. UM pushed forward with scheduling the upcoming seasons. The Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) announced the Fall 2020 athletic seasons would start a month later than normal without a preseason and conclude during the Spring 2021 semester.
For UM Head Volleyball Coach Jon Campbell, the challenges of being one of the first athletic programs to return to action since the pandemic began were daunting.
“The uncertainty of scheduling created challenges because there were multiple factors beyond our control,” Campbell said. “Would the other team be available? Would our full team be available? So many conferences made late or last-minute decisions.”
Nine UM athletic programs began their season during the Fall 2020 semester. However, due to the pandemic, numerous games and tournaments were cancelled and only a small portion of their seasons played in the Fall.
“I believe the biggest challenge we faced was truly learning the skill of adaptability,” said UM junior libero Melea Meadows from Jacksonville, Florida. “As COVID guidelines evolved, we as a team had to evolve with them. This meant doing our part together as a team so that we could compete.”
UM Volleyball played just four games in Fall 2020.
“Realizing that we are never guaranteed another day of play, we practiced every day as if it were our last. Ultimately, throughout this whole first season, I witnessed the Lord’s faithfulness as He continually drew us together to mold us into more than a team, but a family,” Meadows concluded.
Despite the many cancelled games, Campbell, as well as other UM coaches, saw growth within their programs.
“Seeing our team adapt to whatever happened encouraged us,” Campbell said. “Watching them roll with the uncertainty with positive mentalities and no complaints made us so proud. We set the stage early in the summer with Zoom calls, letting them know that we would follow policies and protocol.” Safety of students, staff and coaches became UM’s top priority entering the pandemic academic year, and the university would set specific guidelines for hosting games on campus.
“The way the upperclassmen have led set the tone early on. This year would be great. No excuses.
No asterisks. ‘Unprecedented’ is not going to be a negative for this team. This season would be as great as they chose to make it,” Campbell concluded.
Now as 2021 began with an approved COVID-19 vaccine, the hopes for completion of each athletic program’s season is high. UM will see 17 of 19 athletic programs compete during the Spring 2021 semester. Although the schedule is extremely busy and very unusual, it is understandable and necessary as UM continues to follow CDC, NAIA and SSAC guidelines to ensure safety of student-athletes and personnel.
The UM Athletic Department’s goal remains the same, to compete at a high level on the field or court and in the classroom while glorifying Christ all throughout the process.
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