By: Sasha Schaffer, Darae Lyles, and Jessica Mills
Most Stevenson athletes have returned to the field after last year’s COVID-19 cancellations. But despite Stevenson’s communications and policies many players still perceive that their teammates are not all fully vaccinated.
In an email sent to students and faculty on May 25, Stevenson University announced that COVID-19 vaccinations would be mandatory for the Fall 2021 semester, in addition to other safety protocols. Yet, in informal interviews conducted by The Villager reporters, vaccination rates within some athletic teams seemed to be at variance with the rule. The school’s summer email requested that “undergraduate students, residents, and commuters, as well as Stevenson University Online students” who planned to use the campus facilities, comply with the vaccination mandate and submit their vaccination cards to the Stevenson Wellness Center portal prior to move-in as proof.
In addition to that, a letter from the school to the Stevenson athletics community also outlined some specific policies for Mustang players. Mask wearing for athletes, coaches, and staff is not “required during practice or competition for indoor or outdoor sports,” regardless of vaccination status. However, everyone is expected to properly wear masks “in indoor settings such as training rooms, locker rooms, sidelines for indoor sports and modes of the team and public transportation.”
Head Football coach Ed Hottle said, “We are probably pretty close to somewhere between 97% and 98% vaccinated.”He also said the players have taken some of the responsibility for keeping the team safe from the virus on themselves. “(The players) police the locker room more than (the coaches),” Hottle commented.
The football coach also said that the coaches urge the players to be on guard when they are outside the confines of the program. “We ask our guys to be vigilant, obviously, in class, following all of the university rules.”
Some have speculated whether student-athletes were legitimately avoiding vaccination with medical or religious exemptions, or merely going unvaccinated for personal/political reasons that are outside the rules. Hottle took a hard line on those players. “You could opt not to be here,” he said. “You could opt to stay home. Everything is a choice. We’re all sharing the same kind of air and same kind of space.”
Several other teams including Women’s Ice Hockey, Women’s Volleyball, and Women’s Softball said that some members of their teams were, in fact, not fully vaccinated.
An upperclassman on one of the women’s teams, who did not wish to be identified, said that she believed a significant portion of her team was still not fully vaccinated.
She said, “Parents, coaches, and those with certain political viewpoints are politicizing a health crisis.” At the time of the interview, part of her team was fully vaccinated but some were still only partially vaccinated, she said.
Other players throughout the athletic program, male and female, said that they are aware they have teammates who are not vaccinated. Most of them said that they are taking normal precautions to protect themselves.
“As long as I have my mask on, I feel comfortable,” said Lauryn Davis, a senior Women’s Volleyball player. Although she said coaches and teammates are mindful of the policies, teammates had tested positive for COVID (last year).
“Some girls in the past on my team have had lung issues because of having COVID,” Davis said. “I’m not going to put myself at risk.”
Kat Perea, a junior Women’s Softball player, said that she is aware of unvaccinated players on her team.
“Our coach kept saying (that there were) only two people (on the team) who (weren’t) vaccinated,” Perea said. Perea also said that she was told that her unvaccinated teammates “have to get tested every week.”
Women’s Soccer coach Tati Korba, said her athletes are 100% vaccinated.
“I personally believe that if anyone (athlete or not) is cleared to and able to get the vaccine – they should,” coach Korba said, “for their own safety, and for the protection of others.”
Coach Korba also said she believed that Stevenson’s athletic department has made reasonable efforts to protect everyone. Athletes who are not vaccinated may find their lives significantly more complicated. “Every week I am tested in order to be able to compete … on weekends,” said a Women’s Golf player who did not wish to be identified.
This student-athlete has a medical exemption due to complications from an unrelated illness. “I feel embarrassed,” she said. “Unfortunately my reason for not getting it is out of my hands.”
This athlete, and many others, remain hopeful. “I’m still allowed to practice with the team, participate in team bonding, and go to competitions,” she said.