A Seasonless Year: How PVS Athletes Coped During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The PVS Varsity girls soccer team had just ended a competitive indoor season. With spring break right around the corner, the team was already getting into preseason training for the spring with an intense workout regime and training schedule to prepare for the outdoor league.
It was March 13, 2020.
Dana Shala, who plays center-back defense for the team, was with her friends when she first heard the news. “When the news came out that school was canceled, my immediate response was joy, nothing more. No school, who couldn't be happier?” she said. “I still remember that day when a few classmates and I all read the email with excitement. We screamed and jumped up and down.”
Across Tennessee, high school athletics were shut down. Fields were closed. Locker rooms and gymnasiums were locked up. As PVS made the transition from in-person school to remote learning, there was much anticipation for the athletes and coaches whose lives revolved around sports.
For many students, they shared the same thought: it would be “just a couple of weeks.”
But weeks turned into months. And as daunting as it was for the students to stay at home any longer, the cases in Tennessee kept rising. By December of 2020, the state was labeled the “worst in the world” for COVID transmission with nearly 500,000 cases and ICUs at 98% capacity.
“Sometimes I look back to that day and realize that that excitement didn't last long,” Shala said. “School just hasn't felt the same as it used to. It's hard not seeing people you love and care about for a long time.”
For the PVS Panthers, sports have always been essential to the fabric of the school. The thrill of taking home a huge win against a rival team. The excitement of pep rallies to celebrate the end of a season. And yes, even the baked goods and treats awarded to the athletes after an excellent performance.
But to the athletes, it was so much more than just a game. “I have been playing soccer for as long as I remember. Anytime I get on that field, any stress, anxiety, or worries just leave and I just focus on the game,” Shala said. Fayadh Chowdhury, who plays striker on the boy’s soccer team and point-guard on the middle school basketball team, also saw it as an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. “Sports was usually what some of us as students would go to when we felt overwhelmed at school,” he said. “It was a way of letting it out on the field or on the court.”
So, when it was taken away, athletes were left lost and uncertain about the future. “Sports is almost my second passion in a way that if I’m not studying or at school, I am mostly playing sports, practicing sports, watching sports, and basically surrounding myself with sports,” said Chowdhury. “I felt confused at first because we were having soccer games and then I wasn’t even seeing my teammates anymore.”
The transition was difficult. As school events started getting cancelled and the pandemic worsened, athletes had to tighten up and adjust to this new reality. For some, it meant leaving sports behind all together. Others looked for alternatives to stay healthy and at the top of their game. “I continued to practice and play sports regularly, mostly basketball, all the way up until they started closing all the gyms and courts around the city,” explained Zakariyah Hussain, who plays small forward for the Varsity boys basketball team and center attacking midfielder for the soccer team. “During the period of time where everything was closed, I would either practice at home in my cove or with other players at rented out facilities. When I realized sports were not coming back anytime soon, I stopped focusing on the sports themselves and started focusing on my athleticism, so now I’ll be in the gym 5-7 days a week.”
Soon enough, other schools around the city started opening up practices and were having regular seasons. Yet, the safety of regular athletics was still in question.
“Soccer had been a huge part of my whole life and in less than a day it was completely gone,” Shala explained. “At home, there was no motivation to keep practicing since there was no one else to play a match with. I kept relying and depending on the fact that schools were going to reopen and a new season would start. None of that happened.”
Now, it has been almost 13 months since sports were shut down at PVS. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) gave the green light for certain athletic activities that followed health
regulations to continue around the beginning of January, PVS decided to continue the athletic hiatus to avoid any risks to the health of their students and coaches.
Basketball Coach Abdul Haleem has been staying positive and hoping for the best. “For now, to keep our athletes’ spirits alive, we have been running some practices and training via Zoom,” he said. “God willing, after the pandemic has subsided, we really look forward to training our athletes in a normal setting.”
Next year is still a long road ahead and plans for PVS sports haven’t been finalized yet. For athletes entering their senior year, there is a lot of anticipation as their final chance to play for PVS might have already passed. With the pandemic still affecting millions of lives every day, nothing can be said for certain how things will look in the fall. “My hopes for my senior year would be, ideally, a full regular season of sports,” Hussain, who is currently a junior, said. “If that can’t happen though, I would want to at least participate in MIST with a PVS sports team and get the chance to win before I and a lot of my teammates become ineligible to participate after graduation.”
Shala said that while her biggest wish is for sports to come back, she hopes that whatever decision the school makes will be in the best interest of the safety of everyone.
“With many former teammates graduating soon, who knows if they’ll even be enough to form a team after schools reopen,” she said. “Covid has affected us in every way possible but it's still so important to keep our bodies safe and healthy.”