Student-Athletes Prove “Resilient and Adaptive”

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Student-Athletes Prove “Resilient and Adaptive”
David Klein

Athletic and Physical Education departments implement COVID protocols to keep Ravens safe and active.

In May 2020 — two months after the COVID-19 pandemic forced a switch to remote learning — the uncertainty that characterized much of life across the globe was hanging over the Ravenscroft Athletic and Physical Education departments as well. School leadership’s primary objective was to establish and implement COVID-mitigation protocols that would enable a safe resumption of in-person learning in August, a challenge that would require the combined efforts of administration, clinical services staff, facilities management and others.

At top: Track & field athlete Zoee Bishop-Bridges ’21 competes in a spring-season meet. Photo courtesy of the Foster family

Members of the varsity football team follow fall-season COVID protocols including protective shields in the face masks of their helmets.

Photo courtesy of Nicole Keim ’22

Athletic Director Ned Gonet knew the school’s athletics and physical education programs would pick up again, but how and when had yet to be determined. “It wasn’t clear whether athletics was going to happen. Usually there are summer programs and off-season workouts, but none of that was in place,” he said.

How those programs reopened and met students’ needs throughout the year is a reflection of the determination, adaptability and resilience of the school’s faculty and staff, students and families. Here are some highlights of the year’s extraordinary efforts to keep students active and competing despite the pandemic.

Students in P.E. classes (including Matthew Hutter ’26, in foreground) and athletics (including track & field relay team member Amir Britton ’21) enjoy access to exercise and competition despite the pandemic. Tennis photo courtesy of Simon Capell; track & field photo courtesy of the Foster family


Developing and implementing protocols for athletes

Members of the Athletic Department, led by then-Assistant Athletic Director for Rules, Policies and Compliance Kerry Norman and athletic trainer Sofia Armstrong Cole ’11, were charged with developing and implementing COVID-mitigation protocols, conducting screenings and maintaining compliance with the recommendations of the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association. These recommendations, like the COVID case numbers in the community, were in constant flux, so whenever North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s task force shared public updates, NCISAA Executive Director Homar Ramirez held online briefings with athletic directors and assistants to bring them up-to-date. 

By late July, a plan was in place for restarting athlete workouts and low-risk fall sports such as tennis and golf by the first day of classes in August. Protocols included a stringent daily screening process. Student-athletes worked out and drilled in smaller cohorts to facilitate contact tracing, and changing rooms were scattered around campus. Still, meeting this goal was a crucial first step toward resumption of athletics more broadly.

“When we started, parents were thrilled because their kids had been stuck inside for a long time and they were just happy to see them get out and do some physical work,” said Gonet. “I can remember a lot of parents saying ‘Thank you. We appreciate you making this happen for us,’ in July and August. And the kids just really wanted to get out there and get involved.”

“Our team’s season could be described as a time of growth.”

“Our team’s season could be described as a time of growth. With four new members joining this year, we struggled early on because we were unable to have preseason training due to the pandemic. ... We all worked hard in order to qualify for States, and that is a great accomplishment. Being recognized as All-Conference is memorable to me because, in July, I didn’t know if we would even have a golf season.”

Garland Gould ’24, Golf (Fall 2020)
All-TISAC honoree
School record-holder following a two-under-par round in October 2020

The return to interscholastic competition brought another level of screening for conference officials, operational personnel and, eventually, limited numbers of spectators. Visiting teams had to agree to school protocols. Athletes were masked on the sidelines, and team huddles, handshakes and high-fives gave way to more physically distanced approaches. Maintaining distancing on athletic buses required extra planning.

Above, varsity cheer athlete Alexa Tascher ’21, with her parents, is recognized by Coach Lena Moseley at Senior Night. Below, fall-season athletes on the volleyball and golf teams comply with a range of COVID protocols built primarily around the degree of player contact.


Reimagining P.E. classes

Physical education classes were likewise transformed. To minimize the potential for surface spread — and to ensure the school’s remote learners were able to participate from home — P.E. activities moved from the usual group-focused activities that relied heavily on the school’s facilities and equipment to individualized skill development.

For example, units involving shared equipment — such as basketball — would normally consist of a few days of skill work followed by some lead-up games and then competitive play. Following the department’s COVID protocols meant that these units were thoughtfully redesigned to allow students to engage in more independent or physically distanced activities. Lower Schoolers enjoyed bowling in their gym, and Middle School students were introduced to contact-free games such as spike ball. Once students were able to engage in more competitive play, “the overall improvement in game-play skills was quite evident,” Physical Education Department chair David Myers said.

While the constant sanitizing of equipment and the search for creative ways for students to practice skills individually presented a challenge, Jim Gibbons, Assistant Athletic Director for Technical Services, said students rose to meet it and “performed as well or better than in a ‘normal’ school year. It took a lot of organization and planning to get to what we did, but we had a process and we followed it.”

“The new approach ended up being an unforeseen blessing,” Myers added. “Students were able to focus solely on improving their skills and not so much on game play. They were a bit reluctant at first — especially in Middle School — but quickly warmed to the plan when they realized how much it was benefiting them. This will certainly aid us in the design and implementation of our lessons in future years.”

Above, Steven Yoon ’26, Evan Hatifi ’26 and Henry Brathwaite ’26 learn Spike Ball. Below left, Lower Schoolers practice rolling and throwing balls; below right, Adam Vessel ’26 gets extra time to work on his tennis swing in P.E. Spike Ball and tennis photos courtesy of Simon Capell

 

Members of the lacrosse team continue wearing masks during competition in the early part of the spring season. 

Photo courtesy of Charles Winston

Ongoing challenges, changes to athletic protocols

With the move indoors for winter sports — just as the degree of community spread was growing — guidance from state and federal agencies became more stringent. Athletes on the basketball and wrestling teams were required to compete while wearing masks, and swimmers had to be masked on the pool deck, observe physical distancing and stay in small cohorts away from the pool when not involved in an event. As it turned out, the heightened vigilance was warranted, as numerous COVID cases at other conference schools were reported.

Eventually, school officials made the difficult decision to cancel the Middle School and junior varsity seasons and require varsity athletes to join classes remotely.

“We were holistically very thankful for the opportunity to compete at all, considering the conditions,” wrestling coach Garrett Cummings said of the 2020-21 season. “While some athletes and families respectfully prioritized coming onto campus for school over competing, a smaller squad was able to compete in six dual meets, a conference tournament and the state tournament. Thankfully, we stayed clear of any [COVID transmission] issues, and I think the wrestlers were grateful for the opportunity — especially the seniors.”

Indoor, close-contact winter athletes — including varsity basketball’s Siena Emoubor ’21 and varsity wrestling’s David Gring ’21 — contend with increased mitigation requirements including masks during competition. Basketball photo courtesy of Charles Winston


“I have enjoyed and cherished having the opportunity to run this year...”

“I have enjoyed and cherished having the opportunity to run this year after last year’s season was cut short due to COVID-19. When I discovered I was nominated [for News & Observer Athlete of the Week], excitement filled my body. … Knowing that I have enough [community visibility] to receive this title brings me courage and determination for the conference and state tournaments.”

Alex Richmond ’22, Track & Field (Spring 2021)
TISAC champion in long jump, high jump and 200 meters
Most Outstanding Performer of the TISAC Meet
School record-holder for the girls 4x100 relay at the state championship

There were many high hopes for a return to outdoor sports in the spring season. While the screening protocols and limitations on spectators carried over from winter, by the season’s final weeks athletes were no longer required to wear face masks during competition. A gradual increase in the number of spectators permitted at sporting events marked another much-needed return to normalcy and provided student-athletes with enthusiastic cheers, closing out the challenging year on a high note.

Managing these added tasks in a year like no other in memory was, in the words of Gonet, “extremely challenging. It was just sort of overwhelming, but we understood what we had to do. The staff here did a fantastic job of handling all that. Overall, the students were far more resilient and adaptive than we ever anticipated, and they certainly made the best out of a challenging school year.”

 

RAC Helps Take Sports Livestream to the Next Level

For much of the year, spectators were not permitted to attend athletic events. As with many other challenges this year, technology provided the answer.

The school’s IT staff, led by then-Chief Technology Officer Jason Ramsden, explored many options as they considered how to provide the best coverage for Ravenscroft sports fans. Thanks in part to a generous gift from the parent-led Ravens Athletic Committee, the school was able to invest in PlaySite’s Smart Sports AI technology — a sophisticated system featuring a connected camera platform that enables automated production, livestreaming, multiangle video, instant replay and analytics.

With the supply-chain and distribution problems that plagued so many industries during the pandemic, it took much of the year to get the full system installed. In the meantime, the school’s existing livestream technology — often operated by faculty and staff who were already cleared to be on campus — made it possible for families and friends to see their students compete even though they could not be on campus.

By March, the last cameras arrived, and, as of spring, the equipment upgrade was mostly complete.

“It’s a whole different model,” said Gonet, praising the platform’s versatility and features. “We want to give our community the opportunity to enjoy something special.”

Ravenscroft parent and RAC president Jane Hamlin said the organization was proud to help fund the purchase.

“When RAC first learned about the innovative and cutting-edge PlaySight livestreaming platform and the advantages it would provide to all athletic programs at Ravenscroft, we knew it was a natural fit for us to show support with a significant financial contribution. RAC’s purpose is to support all aspects of athletics at Ravenscroft School, and our investment in this new platform aligns with our purpose — there are advantages all the way around for our entire community! During a year when we were unable to support athletics in the typical ways, RAC was pleased to have this opportunity to continue its legacy of supporting Ravenscroft athletics.”

Read more about the school’s implementation of Smart Sports AI technology here.

This short highlight clip from the Aug. 20, 2021, varsity volleyball game against Greensboro Day showcases several of the streaming platforms features, including high-quality video and audio, a dynamic scoreboard and a game clock.