Och Tamale Summer 2021 - University of Redlands

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bulldog athletics

Resuming on-field operations How Bulldogs jumped back into competition after the COVID-19 pandemic

By Laura Gallardo ’03, ’22

T

hree hundred and twenty-two days. That’s how long Director of Athletics Jeff Martinez, coaches, athletic staff, and student-athletes at the University of Redlands paused in-person sports activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It has been pretty emotional,” says Martinez, who has worked in Bulldog Athletics for four decades. “Without a doubt, the months [from March 2020 to February 2021] have been the most challenging in my professional career.”

Staying connected Associate Athletic Director Rachel Roche remembers the stress and uncertainty of last year in March, when the National Collegiate Athletic Association canceled the winter and spring seasons. “Everything was ripped away in a matter of days,” says Roche. “When I left the office, I didn’t know when I would be back or how long this would last.” Head Coach Mike Schmidt was in North Carolina with track and field student-athletes at the time, their national championship

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OCH TAMALE SUMMER 2021

competition suddenly halted. “It was devastating,” he recalls. However, as the months stretched on, Martinez, Roche, Schmidt, and the rest of the athletics staff worked hard to keep Bulldog student-athletes engaged virtually, checking on the 500 student-athletes by video, phone calls, or text. “We were managing the different experiences of our students across the country,” says Roche. “We do this work to support students, and being removed from them for so long was difficult and strange.” And yet, Schmidt notes, “Our mission is to develop quality student-athletes, and part of that is teaching them how to be comfortable with uncertainty. There is no greater situation to test that lesson than COVID-19.”

The return to sports was accompanied by a host of new COVID-related safety procedures—a daily health assessment, temperature checks before each interaction, and COVID-19 testing that often exceeded the once-a-week College of Arts and Sciences requirement. It also meant all 170 on-campus studentathletes were housed together in five residence halls (Founders, East, Merriam, North, and Williams). Roche notes this was particularly beneficial for first-year studentathletes who had a strange first semester, helping them “gain immediate connections with their teammates also living in the same space.” Nearly 200 additional student-athletes live off-campus.

A joyful return

Schmidt saw the spring season as an opportunity to build a foundation for the future: “It was a chance to restart, reboot, and set forth some of our principles and philosophies.” With health and safety as his number-one priority, Schmidt’s goal was to “give our student-athletes the best possible

While hopes for an in-person 2020 fall season were not realized, this year has been a step in the right direction. Bulldog Athletics resumed limited in-person sports activities on Jan. 25; by the end of March, 12 of 17 teams had begun competing again.

Foundation for the future