by Elena Troia

How Point Park University senior athletes are coping with impact of a global pandemic

When Point Park sports seasons got canceled last spring, junior soccer player Jonathan Hanks didn’t realize that it may be a long time until he returns to the field.

Senior women’s soccer team member Makahla Wiler feels as if this is her worst semester yet.

But not all senior athletes feel this way. Dylan Allen of the men’s cross-country and track and field teams has been grateful despite his running seasons coming to an end.

The COVID-19 pandemic and cancellation of all college sports hit universities’ athletic departments all around the country in early March 2020. For Point Park University, all sports seasons got canceled, sending everyone home to finish out the semester remotely.

“This semester, in general, has literally been the worst semester of my life,” Wiler laughs, “but I guess you get to have your moment, you get to be mad, you get to scream at the world, and then you have to take a step back, compose yourself, realize what you can control and just focus on that.”

Student Sacrifices

Not only did these cancellations of sports disrupt student-athletes’ lives, but it inevitably changed their futures going forward.

Jonathan Hanks decided to take a whole year off after summer break due to the pandemic.

“I thought it was necessary to take a gap year because I didn’t want to pay full tuition for online classes and I value the in-person experience too much,” he said.

“It was so difficult to make this decision, even though I would love to be out playing with my boys right now, but I felt as this was the best thing for me personally,” said Hanks.

Hanks is an example of the sacrifice some student-athletes have had to go through, as online work is not for everyone.

Junior, Jonathan Hanks, member of the men’s soccer team playing on the field with teammate Camilo Rodriguez. Photo by: Max Behr

He will be receiving the usual scholarship he gets for playing soccer, as soon as he decides it is safe for him to get back to school.

“I won’t ever commit to being a full-time online student. I value the in-person connection and networking so much. And as an athlete, I prefer to have a more structured schedule rather than online work that can be done whenever,” he said.

Hanks has a relatively positive view on taking his break, as he is working from home with two internships and a positive mindset that he will be back and ready to play for his senior year.

Athletic Hurdles

But other athletes don’t have such a positive look at the situation.

Makahla Wiler, senior and a member of the women’s soccer team, is fairly disappointed with how her senior year as an athlete is going.

The women’s soccer teams’ pre-season, practices, and games have been like nothing in the past.

“It’s definitely been a struggle. It’s been much more difficult from years past; you’ve had to adapt to everything around you. You aren’t able to go with the normal routine one has been doing since freshman year,” Wiler said.

Practices are run with smaller groups. Only ten people are able to play at one time together, and Wiler says this is the most challenging thing she has had to experience so far.

She said, “We couldn’t be with our entire team together all at once. Which was extremely stressful especially in the beginning stages because one does want to have that time when you first all come together to get to know and trust the people you will be playing with.”

Senior, Makahla Wiler member of the women’s soccer team laughing with her teammates during a team warmup. Photo by: Conner Kelly

Wiler thinks this messes up the flow and chemistry of the team when they are out on the field playing together, but she’s taking it day by day.

She also thinks the hectic and unpredictable schedule can be straining both mentally and physically for her and her teammates, as they never truly know if they will be traveling and playing other schools officially due to safety precautions and other college athletes having to quarantine.

“We have workouts set up in a certain way to prepare for a game against a school, but then that game gets pushed back or even canceled, which then ultimately makes it hard on the body to try to get back to the schedule for whenever we do play again,” Wiler said.

Wiler said that this has been her worst semester yet. Juggling being a full-time student as well as a full-time student-athlete can be a lot for someone, especially with all these new changes students have had to get used to.

Bittersweet Departure

This has been a difficult time for all types of students in college, but senior Dylan Allen of the men’s cross-country team and track and field team has a bittersweet feeling about his senior year.

This would be his last semester running for Point Park.

Before coming into all practices, coaches are required to ask athletes a series of questions to determine whether or not they are showing COVID-19 symptoms as well as getting their temperature taken.

They are also required to wear masks all throughout this process as well as when they are taking a break from running and standing on the sidelines. The only exception to this would be when they are physically running.

“In my entire life, I would have never guessed that my senior year would have ended up like this. I am just happy and sad at the same time to be done at Point Park after this year,” Allen said.

He is worried about keeping his eligibility this last semester of competing because eligibility is affected by grades as well. Allen is worried he won’t be able to keep up his performance as well as do well in online classes and work in the future.

But he is doing good so far and says he has adapted well to most of his classes getting switched to remote learning.

“My teammates that I run with aren’t only my teammates, but they have become my family. I just feel very connected to them and that’s why I would not want to leave this city when I’m done with Point Park,” he said, “It is bittersweet to have it end this way but I’m grateful.”

This piece is from Multiplatform Magazine Reporting Digital Magazine FALL 2020 Issue “Good Trouble – The New Normal.”