If this spring becomes the fourth straight term without interscholastic sports games for Deerfield teams, spring sports teams will have been affected disproportionately compared to other seasons’ teams: they will have missed not one, but two whole seasons of interscholastic competition. Putting this bleak possibility aside, there certainly is hope when it comes to playing against other schools this spring, and the possibility of Deerfield obtaining vaccines before or during spring term is the source of much of it.
In a letter titled “Healthy Deerfield and the 2020-2021 School Year,” sent out before the start of fall term, Head of School Dr. John Austin highlighted that Deerfield’s plan to minimize the spread of COVID on campus was essentially a combination of “overlapping and mutually supporting layers of mitigation.” Put simply, everything that Deerfield is doing differently this year, from wearing POM tracers to adopting a staggered lunch schedule, is one of many layers in Deerfield’s plan to combat COVID.
Having members of the Deerfield community vaccinated would offer another layer of protection, but it could mean a lot more than any of the measures Deerfield currently has in place. Having a significant percentage of students, faculty, and staff on campus vaccinated could bring significant change, and perhaps even allow Deerfield to regularly compete in interscholastic sports games again. The prospect of vaccinating almost everyone on campus, though, comes with a lot of questions.
Firstly, when either the Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, or some other vaccine becomes available to Deerfield, it is highly unlikely that all 647 students, or at least those on campus, will consent to being vaccinated. The same may be true of some Deerfield staff and faculty as well. Even if Deerfield administrators believe in the safety and efficacy of a vaccine, the question of consent for vaccination is a deeply personal one, and it is hard to predict what percent of campus will be open to receiving a vaccine.
One student who already knows he’ll say yes to vaccination is Max Wuchenich ’21, a two-year JV lacrosse player who has been planning to make the jump to varsity since last school year. The boys’ varsity lacrosse team, as is true of many Deerfield teams, is full of committed college athletes, including postgraduate students. Obviously, missing out on interscholastic games in their respective “primary” sports has been tough for postgraduate students, but the upcoming lacrosse season also means a lot to students like Wuchenich, who only have one more shot to play on a varsity team as a Deerfield student.
Wuchenich does not intend to commit to a college lacrosse program, but he has been working his way up from junior varsity since freshman year. Last winter, he trained with the varsity team, hoping to play for them in the spring season. Wuchenich is doing the same this winter and is hoping to play on varsity in the spring.
When asked to express his feelings about the season ahead, Wuchenich stated, “This season’s been two years in the making, and I think we have a ton of talent this time around.” He added, “I think I can speak on behalf of almost the entire lacrosse team when I say this: we’ll do anything to play.” Wuchenich is just one of many athletes for whom this upcoming season is extremely important.
According to Athletic Director Bob Howe, there is a real possibility of playing interscholastic sports this spring. Mr. Howe pointed out that certain sports are more likely than others because of how inherently COVID-safe they are. Take tennis or golf, for example. In theory, each of these sports could be played with incredibly low risk of transmission. Athletes from opposing schools could easily wear masks and avoid contacting each other. Additionally, tennis and golf are often played outside. Track & field could potentially be low-risk as well.
In contact sports like lacrosse, on the other hand, the likelihood of transmission certainly seems higher, but that’s not to say games won’t be played; with enough testing and trust between schools, lacrosse games are possible.
Trust between opposing schools will probably be the most important aspect of interscholastic games this spring. For Deerfield to allow its students to travel to another school, or vice versa, that school will have to be up to Deerfield’s standards of COVID protocols–this means that testing strategies, frequency of positive cases, and other important factors could determine whether Deerfield plays a certain school.
Mr. Howe added that Deerfield will likely have to play games within Massachusetts, as legislation wouldn’t allow for interstate travel. This might mean Deerfield won’t see some of its usual opponents: Hotchkiss, Choate, and Exeter, just to name a few.
With plenty of challenges ahead, Mr. Howe is staying optimistic about spring sports. He concluded by saying, “We’re committed to playing some games this spring because it matters to this school.” While nearly all Deerfield athletes would love to play interscholastic games if we could do so safely, all there is to do right now is hope for the best.