By Leo Berkley
COVID-19 restrictions in early 2020 have negatively impacted the sports landscape across the country and on Mercer Island. Some participants have struggled to replace the many benefits of organized sports on the community’s health and wellbeing.
This pandemic has caused the loss of community spirit and connection, especially for students who are accustomed to the camaraderie of a sports team. Students, parents and administrators alike are struggling to replace the social aspects that come with sports, as well as the sense of belonging that comes with school spirit.
“There is so much value you get from being a part of a team, and to take away that social element of sports is really disheartening,” MIHS Cross Country coach Susan Empey said.
At MIHS, many students are involved with a sports team in some way, whether as an athlete, supporter or manager. Many of these students decide to participate in athletics not only because they are fun, but because of the mental and physical benefits that come with sports.
For instance, sports provide a lot of positive effects for one’s body. According to the American Heart Association, increased physical activity can lower your blood pressure, boost your levels of good cholesterol, improve blood flow and keep your weight under control.
Exercise also decreases stress and anxiety levels. When exercising, the body releases chemicals called endorphins, which tend to lighten one’s mood and provide a more positive and energetic outlook on life.
“A critical part of highschool is feeling like you belong to something, and sports offers that to lots of students,” Empey said. “I think there’s all these intangible benefits you get from sports, and to have that taken away during a time when there’s so much stress and anxiety because of COVID-19 is so detrimental.”
The cancelled sports seasons have affected students from all grades, but upperclassmen who wish to continue their athletic careers in college suffer the added stress of their uncertain futures, as they face new and unprecedented obstacles with the recruitment process.
For instance, the NCAA has suspended all in-person recruiting until January 1 for Division 1 schools, which makes recruiting for juniors and seniors even more difficult since they will not have as many opportunities to showcase their skills.
“[COVID closures are] a big hit,” senior soccer captain Josh Chang said. “[Now], way fewer colleges that can come see people play.”
Even for those not affected by recruitment struggles, most junior and senior athletes are affected, including swimmer, baseball player and water polo player John Novak, wouldn’t have imagined their pinnacle seasons to unfold in such a manner.
“I know we all share the same sentiment of wanting to have our turn at being at the top of our sport and being a leader on the team,” Novak said. Losing out on these opportunities has been very disheartening to upperclassmen.
However, throughout these difficult times, students have still found ways to stay active. Many are going on runs, or working out in small groups to avoid too much exposure. This may seem unimportant, but it is actually quite the opposite. Being able to socialize with others is one of few things that students can look forward to. This simple act of getting out and exercising is all it takes to create a more positive mindset in hopes of a COVID-free future.