Nearly 400 days since an Amherst Mammoths athletic team suited up for an official contest, the long COVID-19-induced sports hiatus at the College is about to end.
On April 3, the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) will begin a compressed spring sports season extending to the end of May. The decision to organize spring athletics was made by the presidents of the NESCAC member institutions and announced in March.
“The past year has posed an extraordinary set of challenges,” a statement from the 11 leaders read. “We are grateful to all members of our communities for the strength and resilience they have shown. As the vaccine rollout accelerates, we are optimistic we can return to a more typical collegiate experience next year.”
Amherst teams with enough student-athletes currently on campus will have the opportunity to compete in NESCAC-only games. The contests themselves will be strictly regulated, closely monitored and follow the same mask-wearing and physical-distancing protocols that have kept COVID-19 numbers low at Amherst since the start of the pandemic. In addition, the athletic training staff has developed a robust COVID-19 testing regimen for week- and day-of-competition that all NESCAC teams and officials are expected to follow.
Mammoth teams taking to the diamond, course, court and track in some capacity include baseball, men’s and women’s golf, softball, women’s tennis and men’s and women’s track and field. Only students studying on campus this semester are eligible to participate in games and practices.
The College will continue to take numerous safety precautions, such as limiting spectators to students and staff with permission to be on campus. Fans from afar can watch live-streams of many games via the Northeast Sports Network (NSN).
The spring season would not be possible without the patience and “extraordinary dedication” of the entire Amherst athletic department, from the administrative team to the coaches, athletic trainers and so many others, says Director of Athletics Don Faulstick. He said his heart breaks for the teams and student-athletes—especially the seniors—who remain unable to compete as a Mammoth this academic year. But he is excited for and proud of those who will get the chance to represent the College in NESCAC contests. “I appreciate President Martin’s trust in our department and student-athletes that we could pull this thing off.”
Also appreciative is men’s golfer Michael Bakshandeh ’21. “I am excited to play against other NESCAC schools and rekindle those relationships and rivalries—that’s what makes NESCAC golf so fun,” he says. “But also just to compete. That’s definitely a step toward normalcy in my mind.”