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Western postpones in-person sports activities due to COVID-19

Postponement causes disappointment among student-athletes

A Western logo with a fierce viking.
A Western logo with a fierce viking. // Courtesy of WWU athletics

By Nathan Schumock

Western Washington University has suspended all in-person sporting activities as of Jan. 27.

Teams returned to practice Jan. 19., but rising COVID-19 cases led to the decision to postpone all sport practices for two weeks with a possible return scheduled for Feb 8., said Jeff Evans, Western’s director of athletic communications.

“This is across all our teams, it’s all 15 intercollegiate sports,” Evans said. “There will be no organized practices.”

Alongside the incident command structure team, Melynda Huskey, Western’s vice president for enrollment and student services, made the decision. 

“Student-athletes are overrepresented among cases this quarter,” Huskey said. “With every case, we face the chances of serious long-term health consequences.”

Huskey added that canceling practice was not a punishment to the student-athletes, but a precaution to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Reports of the individual student-athletes who contracted COVID-19 have not been made public, but Evans said it isn’t about the athletes, it’s about campus and student safety.

There have been 33 documented positive COVID-19 cases from the on-campus testing facility during winter quarter as of Jan. 29, compared to the 38 total cases from fall quarter. 

“Our student-athletes have been diligent just like everyone else,” Evans said. “But they’re not immune to what’s going on right now.”

It’s a frustrating time for the athletes because they only got one week of practice in before they had to shut back down, said Jessica Smithlin, an athlete on the women’s rowing team.

“I don’t think it was because of us getting together that caused the outbreak,” Smithlin said. “I feel like the blame got put on us because it was advertised that we were at practice.”

Rowing requires a whole team and it’s hard to work on your craft outside of university organized practices, so the rowers are now left to their own devices, Smithlin said. 

“With a sport that’s so technical, you’re losing so much work while our competitors have been out on the water all year,” Smithlin said.

Evans said the postponement of sports practices could be beneficial to getting COVID-19 under control on campus.

“We’re hoping that this actually kind of helps us get a handle on things, curb it and possibly even help us as we look to get back into competition,” Evans said.

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