Like many familiar aspects of Deerfield Academy, its Athletic Program has evolved massively due to COVID-19. Exemptions, in particular, are modeled much differently. What used to only be offered to bi-varsity upperclassmen athletes, exemptions are now available to all student-athletes regardless of grade and varsity status.
The new exemption model allows students to have access to both the gym and their respective practice locations. The pool, squash courts, tennis pavilion, and field house are now in use by students with exemptions for their winter or spring sport. With drastic changes to the exemption model, there are both pros and cons.
With more students participating in sports due to exemptions and the crucial social distancing guidelines due to COVID-19, scheduling and de-densifying campus have both posed a challenge. Nevertheless, Deerfield has approached this challenge effectively.
Now utilized by the boys’ fall water polo team and boys’ and girls’ winter swim and dive Teams, the pool has a planned-out schedule to accommodate each team. Swim and dive now offers an impressive fall program to prepare swimmers for the winter season. Swimming and diving are sports that are typically participated in year-round, so having an organized and well-managed fall program has helped swimmers stay in shape during the off-season.
Taylor Coan ’21, co-captain of the girls’ varsity swim team, stated that “the fall program has definitely helped the team bond better. We all can get to know each other and practice without the stress of competing and doing well in meets.”
Sarah Parish ’23 is a new sophomore and new member of the girls’ varsity swim team. When asked about the greatest difficulties that the new schedule causes, Parish ‘23 answered, “The practice times are cut short because of sharing the pool with boy’s water polo, and it’s hard not having a consistent schedule,” Despite this challenge, Parish mentioned, “I think doing an exemption has definitely helped me meet new people. I really enjoy the team and love getting to know people in other grades especially since I’m a new student. I look forward to practices everyday because of the girls on the team!”
The pool in the fall, once only filled with upperclassmen on exemptions or the boy’s varsity water polo team, is now a hub of team bonding with swimmers of all grade levels. The swim team has managed to adhere to the social distancing and de-densifying guidelines, while still preparing athletes for the Varsity season.
The Squash courts have also been utilized by athletes on exemptions over the past couple months. Willow Woodward ’22, a member of the girls varsity squash team, said, “De-densifying was initially challenging because only two people are allowed on the squash court with masks, but squash is a sport where you can do so many drills and game-like situations by yourself or in pairs since a squash match is played with only two people on court so it has worked out pretty well.”
The tennis courts have faced some challenges with scheduling and de-densifying, due to half of the pavilion being transformed into the COVID-19 testing center and the other half being utilized by fall crew’s equipment. Member of the girls varsity tennis team, Hunter Puliam ’22 has been practicing on the courts as part of her exemption. When asked about the challenges she has faced due to less courts available, Pulliam responded, “We’ve been using the outdoors courts. I’m not really sure how long we’ll be able to play outside until it gets cold, but once it does that’s gonna be a major issue.” However, Pulliam was quick to add, “Doing an exemption has helped because I’ve gotten to know other girls on the team better and also been able to train for tournaments back home this winter which will make me better prepared for the season this spring, fingers crossed we’ll be able to have one.”
Overall, although less practice space is available due to de-densifying guidelines, many athletes are grateful to stay in shape during their off-seasons. While the familiar exemption model has evolved, the zeal and dedication of off-season athletes remain.