Kent State Department of Athletics Goes Above and Beyond to Keep Students Safe
As student-athletes at Kent State University, Eva Nikolai and Raphael Rodriguez are keenly aware of the daily protocols that the athletic department practices to keep them and their teammates safe from COVID-19.
Rodriguez, junior aerospace engineering major, said he and his teammates on the wrestling team are tested for COVID-19 three times per week, as are student-athletes on other Kent State teams when in-season.
In addition to testing and distancing, Nikolai, a junior marketing major who is a member of the Kent State lacrosse team, said she and her teammates attend practices and meetings in three small groups to cut down on contact.
“All of these measures in the athletic department and on my team make us feel safe,” said Nikolai, who joined the lacrosse team her freshman year and represents the team on Kent State’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC).
“Our team has taken many steps to keep us safe,” Nikolai said. “We all know what’s going on and the severity of the situation. When we make the right choices for the team and our loved ones and have respect for society in general, it makes these decisions easier for us.”
Whether Kent State’s 450 student-athletes are studying or practicing as a member of one of the university’s 19 teams, the Flashes Safe Seven are among the protocols that are required, according to Trent Stratton, associate athletic director of Kent State’s Intercollegiate Athletics Department. The department also must follow standards set by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
The NCAA has classified each sport due to the risk of exposure, Stratton said. High-risk sports must test three times a week, those at the intermediate risk level should test at least 50% of the team each week and low-risk sports should test 25% of the team each week.
“The NCAA has published multiple versions of a ‘resocialization to sport’ document,” Stratton said. “They have set standards for testing by classifying sports as low, intermediate and high-risk sports. We have gone above and beyond those standards. We treat all sports as high-risk and test all athletes who are in season three times per week.”
According to Stratton, the athletic department has put a lot of focus on physical distancing – how many athletes are occupying a space at a time. Provisions have been made to allow student-athletes to physically distance themselves from others in the locker and weight rooms, as well as while studying. Training equipment has been moved from the MACC to the main field house, where there is more room and better ventilation. Athletic department personnel use electrostatic sprayers to sanitize all practice venues, weight and training rooms.
In the past, study tables would include athletes from every sport at the same time. Now, teams reserve study table space to be used by certain sports at a time and students also have access to virtual tutoring. Athletes are also encouraged to wear masks when they are not competing such as when studying or traveling on team buses, which are filled to half capacity.
Casey Cegles, deputy athletics director, said the department has always operated from the model that student-athletes come first. Since COVID-19 struck, every decision the department makes is from that perspective.
“Starting in June when the student-athletes began to return, we wanted to make sure that whatever situation they were in, they would be safe,” Cegles said. “We worked with the individuals on campus, the Kent City Health Department and following the recommendations and guidance of the Ohio Department of Health to check off every box we could to make sure that our student-athletes were not at risk.”
Rodriguez, who loves school and has a 3.9 grade point average, said wrestling has given him the opportunity to build comradery and friendships with his teammates. He said at the beginning of the season there were a few outbreaks that interfered with the team’s ability to compete. But they were a wake-up call for the guys to stay away from people who are not following the Flashes Safe Seven.
“Kent State’s protocols are watertight,” he said.