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Practicing Prudent Play

RecWell’s New Guidelines Prioritize Safety in Intramural Sports Amid COVID

By Annie Krakower

Volleyballs and equipment cleaner

Photos by Briana DeRosa

Students play intramural volleyball at the Reckord Armory last week. For all in-person sports offered by RecWell this semester, masks are required, new signage indicates where to enter and exit facilities to control traffic flow, and a sanitizing “go bag” is sent to each field or court daily with rags, hand sanitizer and equipment cleaner.

The masks weren’t the only unusual addition to the intramural kickball game that Drew Lepre ’21 played earlier this semester. The team captain found the kickers doing double-duty with no catcher behind them, fielders tossing the ball back to the pitcher to record outs instead of tagging runners, and refs wiping down the ball before each kicker stepped up to the plate.

Those are just a few of the protocols that University Recreation and Wellness staff put in place this fall to make intramural sports happen—safely—amid COVID-19. Despite fewer students on campus and living nearby during the pandemic translating into lower participation, the modified rules, as well as a slate of new virtual activities, have provided Terps with entertainment, leisure and opportunities to socialize at a time that’s often been isolating.

“It’s been fun to go out and see people,” said Lepre, a mechanical engineering major. “Sometimes when I’m just at my apartment doing work all day, I don’t have enough of a break.”

RecWell staff started planning for the semester early this summer. For club sports, which typically include teams that travel and compete against other universities at the regional and national level, games were canceled and practices were modified to be contactless, with activities like cardio, speed and weight training.

Students wearing masks play intramural volleyballIntramural sports leaders similarly ran down their list of activities to determine which would have to be nixed because of inherent close contact—sports like football, basketball and soccer—and which could be modified to meet the 4 Maryland guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus on campus.

“We wanted to be able to provide an opportunity for students to recreate if and only if we could do it safely,” said Jason Hess, assistant director for intramural sports and Reckord Armory. “We had one main rule in mind: Can you play the sport and be pretty certain that people will always stay 6 feet apart?”

That left eight individual or dual sports like golf, badminton and tennis, as well as three main team sports: four-on-four volleyball, kickball and softball. For all in-person offerings, masks are required both inside and outside, new signage indicates where to enter and exit facilities to control traffic flow, and a sanitizing “go bag” is sent to each field or court daily with rags, hand sanitizer and equipment cleaner.

Before the intramural seasons kicked off, RecWell student staff members accepted an unusual new job responsibility: competing in practice games to test out the new rules and contact-reducing adjustments, like the tag-out ban in kickball and softball. Although at times the staff feels like the “fun police” by asking participants to stay apart, avoid high-fives and keep their masks over their mouths and noses, Hess said, students have respected the guidelines.

“I don’t think the changes and rules affect the way the game is played,” Lepre said. “I thought (the kickball game) would be slow-paced … but the gameplay itself was pretty smooth.”

For Terps still uncomfortable playing in-person sports, RecWell is also offering virtual activities, including e-sports and Zoom trivia leagues. Staff first introduced such online options when COVID-19 closed campus in the spring, providing a way to interact with friends from afar.

Even with those additions, though, this semester’s nearly 1,500 intramural participants are less than one-third of what’s typical for fall, with the elimination of the popular flag football and soccer leagues playing a big role in the decrease. But students have still expressed appreciation, Hess said. One particularly passionate player even approached the RecWell team with an idea for “human foosball,” a form of socially distanced soccer, which could be offered in the spring as staff continues brainstorming.

“It’s been different for sure,” Hess said, “but we’re really happy that we’ve been able to provide the university with opportunities to play sports.”

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