Mask on, mask off

Winter athletes face new challenge this season with mask mandates


Keith Pawlowski

After a defensive steal, junior Grace White looks up the court for an open player on Jan. 26 in a game against the Riverside Panthers.

Jessica Majors, Photo Editor

Winter athletes were ecstatic to get back to the sports they love. Whether it was getting back onto the court, mat or ice, they were bound to make an impact this season. With COVID-19 cases rising through the holidays, student-athletes’ biggest concern was if they were going to be able to have a season or not, not being required to wear a mask. 

“I was really worried that we would not have a season due to all COVID-19 cases that were continuing to rise. I had just wrapped up my volleyball season indoors and I continued to stay hopeful that it would continue through basketball the same way it did for volleyball in the fall,” junior Olivia Evans said. 

For other schools around the area, some winter athletics during the 2019-20 season were shut down due to the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. These athletes were all in postseason play and had to put a halt to their final goals. Luckily, Freedom athletes just inched that shutdown mark and were able to have a final closure on the 2019-20 season. The girls basketball team was able to reach the quarterfinals of the WPIAL playoff and the wrestlers who qualified for the state championships were able to compete. Trent Schultheis placed 4th and Freedom’s co-op Kenny Duschek placed 3rd.   

From the start of the season, the athletes were not required to wear masks during any of the practices, but were required to wear masks during downtime. Downtime included walking in or out of the gym, and during breaks when the athletes were not six feet apart, just like how fall sports were run. 

As these athletes were getting back into the swing of things, it was released that all athletes had to wear masks at all times. From walking into the gym, to exercising, all through the time they left the building, these athletes were required to wear masks. This was a huge impact on these athletes as getting back into shape was at a whole new level. This time around they were not just training for their sport, but they were also training their lungs with making sure they were able to keep up. 

Wearing masks was not an ideal circumstance for these athletes, but they were willing to do what it takes to have a season. 

“With masks coming and going at times as the season progresses, the team has to prepare for anything,” Evans said.

Just as these athletes were getting used to playing full time with a mask, another curveball came their way, but it was one most athletes were excited to hear. The school board voted that these athletes will have to train and sit on the sidelines with masks on, but during games or matches while out on the court or mat these athletes will not be required to wear them. 

Many negatives come along the way as masks began to be required for these athletes. While the school did not require athletes to wear masks, other schools require their athletes to wear them. During the girls basketball games against the North Catholic Trojans and the Riverside Panthers, the girls had to wear masks while playing the whole game. Also, the boys basketball team had many incidents throughout the season where they were required to wear masks. Games against New Brighton and Avonworth the boys had to wear the masks the full game. 

“Some schools want us to wear them while others do not require them. We practice with them on at all times just to be safe, but take them off when game time comes around,” Evans said. 

While none of these teams had a major shutdown to their season, the boys basketball team and wrestling team had to quarantine for one week throughout the season due to potential exposure through the team. These boys bounced back from the break and were ready to finish their seasons strong. 

These athletes went day to day not knowing what the next day will hold. One day they could be playing and the next they are forced to quarantine. They went into every practice like it was their last and played every game with everything inside of them. They feared they were going to be shut down and their seasons were going to come to a close. While masks were something new added to their season this year, these athletes wanted to do anything just to have a full season like normal.