Morehouse was one of the first universities to give football scholarships to end the sport due to the pandemic. Ambition meets precision on the Morehouse College campus people knowingly walk to and from their destinations with brightly colored masks on their faces. A security guard stops cars as they enter the campus in the heart of Atlanta, waves by after a brief chat, and carefully questions others. At Forbes Arena, where the basketball team plays, Morehouse’s soccer coach Rich Freeman shared how much had changed in the last 15 months since his athletics department first offered college soccer scholarships in the coronavirus pandemic. “It was an important adjustment period for us,” said Freeman, whose team returned to videoconferencing as an early forum for the 2021 season to reflect on his lost year and share concerns about his future in and out of town beyond their sport.
They returned to spring training in February with significant health and skill restrictions. The athletes were screened for the virus twice a week in the summer, and for their first team meetings, the coaches divided the players into groups in several rooms because that was different entire team could not gather in it. The older players were challenged to rebuild the camaraderie and welcome the newbie’s and the sophomores who had missed their expected first season.
The players were happy to get back together. Eventually, they were all vaccinated.
“A lot of guys have gone mad, and I understand where they’re from,” said quarterback Mike Sims, who missed a season for the first time since he was 6, in May, but delayed his plans when the 2020 season was canceled, saying he felt it was partly his role to keep his teammates calm and reflect on circumstances beyond football.
“Of course, kids, we’re not trying to hear this,” Sims said in an interview while seated next to Freeman and Curtis Campbell, the Morehouse director of sports. “Of course we’re eager to play, but sometimes it’s a situation, especially like Covid, it’s bigger than just having fun.”
The disproportionate coronavirus wreaked havoc on blacks has been over the decisions of universities, which are nearly three times more likely to be hospitalized with Covid19, and twice as likely to die from it compared to whites in the United States to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some team members understood the reality immediately, Sim had foreseen the cancellation, and when it did, he called Freeman a day later to tell his trainer that he was planning to go back to school.
Last year the N.C.AA granted all athletes an additional year of eligibility in the fall due to the effects of the pandemic on university sports. Morehouse, who plays in Division II, also promised that he would allow any athlete on his soccer team to keep their scholarship, which Freeman says has helped ease the anxiety of worried players and their parents.
“That made us a lot easier,” said Freeman. “We were able to focus our energies again on: ‘Hey, look, you have an extra year to raise this GPA to try and see if you can do some things that you like about internships and help your career after your enrollment. “He added, “That was the positive side. We had a couple of guys who after graduation could do a few things to position themselves better. ”Be the first to make sacrifices. Morehouse, she decided, would be the other school in our conference that they wanted to play, ”Thomas said in a telephone interview. “It was also a time when I decided that Morehouse should and could take the lead,” and the Middle East Athletic Conference, full members of which are HBC. The United States suspended its fall sports for 2020 less than a month after Morehouse’s decision.
Most other conferences and programs continued their college football season despite positive stories. The Southwestern Athletic Conference, whose member schools include Jackson State and Grambling State, has rescheduled its football season from the fall to the spring of 2021.
In the conferences of the Power 5, the ten big and PAC12 later delayed their seasons in the fall. With the coronavirus forcing universities across the country to study online, many H.B.C.U for Morehouse, this involved sending internet access points to students who needed them.
“We noticed that many of our students were trying to study online on their cell phones because that was how they were connected to the Internet,” said Thomas. “When they were on campus, they could go to our computer labs and study center if they needed a full screen and a set of tools.”
Morehouse also faced several financial ramifications for its lost 2020 football season. The university gives about $ 2 million annually in soccer scholarships and has had to forego income that would have come from games outside of the conference, about $ 500,000, Thomas said.
His main concern has always been to find a way to protect his students. When Thomas Freeman, who has been Morehouse’s coach since 2007, called with news of the cancellation, Freeman spent little time insisting on what was going to be lost. His priority was to make sure his 18-22-year-old players understand why the football that had consumed most of their lives was taking them away. And he would have to deliver the message by video call before such meetings were commonplace in school and business life.
“That was the hard part,” said Freeman. “Sometimes you would like to provide information personally. Whenever it comes to a loss, a phone call to let someone know that they are going to suffer a loss, sometimes it’s difficult because you don’t have that personal touch. ”Some players needed extra help and Freeman remembered the calls, which he received to ask what would happen next. “We have very few young people on our team who see football as their only option. Very few, “said Freeman. He added,” We have a few young people, a handful, who came to school and see sports like, ‘That’s all I can do.’ That’s not the answer the truth. The truth is, you can’t always run fast and jump high. The truth is, the good Lord puts something inside of you to do for others, and it’s not necessarily just a soccer game. “
When the players returned to the field this fall, some continued to seek Freeman’s advice. Some asked their families and academic advisors. Others turned to Morehouse’s sports chaplain, A. Van Smith, whom they call Uncle Van. Smith can wander around on the team s sideline during games, shouting things like “Nice game, nephew” when a player does something out of the ordinary.
“A bunch of winners,” he said proudly on Saturday when Morehouse played against Edward Waters of Jacksonville, Florida. Morehouse never led the game. He continued, “It looks like we’re going to be 05 now, but it’s still a good thing. I think people need this. They have to be together. He couldn’t be that isolation last year.” it was easy for these kids. “