When the COVID-19 pandemic sent colleges and universities across the county to online instruction and the public into lockdown, household supplies like toilet paper and hand soap and kitchen staples like rice and flour became hot commodities that were difficult to come by.
College athletes faced a different kind of shortage.
“Everyone knew gyms would be closing so they started buying up bikes and weights,” says Kristin Steins, a senior in mechanical engineering at Missouri S&T. “People tried to make their own home gyms.” A two-sport Miner athlete, Steins plays center on the women’s basketball team and goalie for women’s soccer.
“Dumbbells were so hard to find,” says Marta Durk, a senior in business and information systems and shooting guard for the Miners. “I could only find one 20-pound dumbbell,”
When gyms across the country shut down, basketball was in off-season, but with no available facilities, players had to improvise.
“There is an outside hoop down the street from my house, and my mom works at a middle school back home,” Durk says. “I shot there a few times. I worked out most days, just working on skills and getting shots up. We had no structured practices.”
Steins, who plans to work in the pharmaceutical industry, was interning at BJC HealthCare in Kansas City last summer.
“I left home at 6 a.m. and stopped at a high school on the way to work to run on their football field. I even found a shower in my building at work,” says Steins. “I was lucky enough to have a Lifetime Fitness nearby that was open.”
Many miner athletes couldn’t participate in their sport in 2020 or even visit campus gyms until the fall, and new procedures were put in place to help keep them healthy.
“Our gym closed mid-March and didn’t reopen until school started again in August,” says John Kean, Missouri S&T sports information director. “Fall sports were either canceled or postponed. And we still have protocols. To work games, for instance, temperature checks are required to get into the building and everyone signs in for contract tracing.”
“Outside of practice, we all hang out with only each other. Our bubble is basically just us,” Steins says. “We’re definitely more aware of people around us. We wear masks all the time.”
“We are more careful outside and inside because there is more pressure not to get sick,” Durk says. “I’ve started noticing people when they aren’t wearing masks. Masks just look normal now.”
During games, bench seats are now three rows of widely spaced chairs. And other than some person-shaped cardboard cutouts, there are no fans in the stands. Players are masked at all times except while playing. They are tested weekly for COVID-19 and only play if the test is negative. If one player tests positive, the entire team is quarantined.
“When teams are on the road, meals are catered to hotels, are delivered to the venue or picked up at a restaurant,” Kean says. “Our student-athletes are trying to avoid contact with the outside world as much as possible. Players wear masks when traveling and sometimes take vans on shorter trips instead of sharing a bus.”
Both Durk and Steins say athletes and coaching staff are making the best of the situation.
“Games almost feel like a practice now,” Durk says. “They definitely have a team vibe.”
“Coach says we have to create our own energy,” Steins says. “They do pipe in some fan noise, though.”
Sports seasons in spring and fall 2020 were basically a bust, Kean says, so since the pandemic had not cleared up, the NCAA allowed a blanket year of eligibility. Basically, student-athletes received an extra year of play.
Durk, who plans to graduate in May 2021, is staying at Missouri S&T to play another season of basketball. She’s already enrolled in graduate courses and is working toward a master’s degree.
Steins plans to graduate next fall, but she too has already started graduate courses. When she returns to S&T to pursue a master’s degree, she will get another season on the soccer field.