In a recent interview, I spoke with Shepherd University Vice President of Athletics & Rams Football Alum Chauncey Winbush. In our conversation, we discussed how the Shepherd University Athletics Department is guaranteeing a safer environment its athletes and staff following the global pandemic, as well as some of the repercussions if these mandates are not followed. Here’s our discussion:
How does it feel to have Shepherd sports back for the fall?
It feels amazing to have the opportunity to compete in fall sports this year. Our time on campus last fall was unusual without sports, so it’s great to be one step closer to normalcy at this point of the year.
How important was it to you that Rams’ fans get to experience this again?
As an Athletics department, we believe we provide a positive entertainment experience for not only the university community, but the local community as well. We have an incredible fan base that provides tremendous support to our coaches and student athletes, so it is critical that they are a part of the overall game experience.
How would you describe what Shepherdstown felt like in 2020 without fall sports?
We are so fortunate to have tremendous support from our local community. Without fall sports in 2020, there was not the usual buzz around Shepherdstown that we all have grown to know and love. Shepherdstown was pretty quiet last year, which negatively impacted the community as a whole in my opinion.
Were there any hiccups involved with getting fall sports back on campus?
We were fortunate not to have any hiccups with the return of fall sports this year. We were able to successfully navigate COVID-19 during the 2021 Spring semester, so we felt confident that the return to fall sports would be seamless.
What are some of the mandates that athletes are taking to ensure that the season goes along smoothly?
We continue to stress the importance of social distancing, masking and washing hands to our student-athletes. We are hopeful that between those students that are vaccinated, NCAA testing requirements and our student-athletes making great decisions, we will not have any hiccups this fall. It will certainly take our entire department pulling in the same direction to have a success fall season.
How do you feel COVID-19 will continue to affect mandates surrounding sports in the NCAA?
Unfortunately, it looks like COVID-19 will continue to affect our country for the foreseeable future, so we will continue to follow the recommendations from the CDC, the local health department and required standards set by the NCAA.
As a former student-athlete, did you have any empathy towards the athletes who would have missed their senior seasons due to the pandemic?
The last 18 months plus have been incredibly difficult for all of our student-athletes. I have felt significant empathy for all of our students that have been affected by COVID. I have attempted to support our student-athletes to the best of my ability but realize that there is only so much comfort that can be provided considering the circumstances that they have gone through during this time. I am hopeful we can have a successful season this year to allow for the seniors to finish their last year of competition in a positive manner.
Do you feel as though student-athletes need to be vaccinated?
I believe everyone has to make the best decision for their health and safety. My overall concern is for the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff. I am hopeful that COVID doesn’t derail any of our upcoming seasons this year, because it may only take a few positive cases to negatively impact a program. I am hopeful that our student-athletes make great decisions regarding their safety this year no matter what their vaccine status.
If an athlete were to test positive, what would be the steps that follow?
If a student-athlete tests positive for COVID, they will immediately be placed into isolation for 10 days to allow for potential symptoms to subside. We would also go through the contact tracing protocols to make sure we mitigate the spread of the virus within a particular team. If another student-athlete is considered a contact, they would have to quarantine for 14 days with the goal to mitigate the spread of the virus as well.
What would they need to resume participation?
The NCAA requires each institution to implement a return to play protocol. This includes an examination by a physician and a physical conditioning test set forth by our athletic training staff to make sure the student-athlete wasn’t negatively impacted physically by their COVID diagnosis.
I know that athletes need to have three negative tests to be able to travel with the team. What would happen if they were to miss a test?
The NCAA and PSAC have set testing standards for all institutions, to include 3 negative rapid tests in order to compete. If a student-athletes misses one of these tests, they would be considered ineligible to practice or compete until they have completed said tests. There must be at least a day in between scheduled tests, therefore the unfortunate loss of participation for a student-athlete that misses a scheduled test.
How will Shepherd University Athletics continue to ensure a safer environment for its athletes, staff and fans?
The Shepherd University Athletics department will continue to follow the guidelines set by the CDC, Jefferson County Health Department and university administration. The NCAA and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference has provided requirements with regards to testing and COVID protocols, so we will continue to follow through with these requirements with the hopes of providing a safe environment for all stakeholders associated with our competitive seasons.
Any words for Rams fans as the Fall season begins?
We are beyond excited to have fall competitions return to Shepherdstown. We have missed the opportunity to represent our great institution and to see the incredible fans that support our coaches and student-athletes. I hope all of our fans come out to support us and are ready to see some incredible action this fall. Go Rams!