Photo by Elizabeth O'Guin

By Parris Clarke, Assistant Sports Editor-

Being in college at a university is more than just clocking in from class to class with a little emancipation sprinkled on top. It’s about finding and fostering a new community, absent from the familiarities of adolescence. A great way to do this by getting involved with all the opportunities that are provided by the university. However, over the past year seeking out this type of involvement has become nearly impossible. UTC’s campus engagement events and extra-curricular facilities have been on pause during the pandemic.

Campus Recreation at UTC and the Aquatic and Recreation center is one of the organizations most heavily affected.

It was during spring break last March that university officials made the decision to cancel in-person classes for the semester. 

While classrooms were empty, Campus Rec. and the ARC remained open for a couple of weeks following the decision to move academics virtual.

Officials for Campus Rec. hadn’t received word that they needed to close their facilities. But the rapidly evolving events surrounding the onset of the pandemic caused a minor panic and called for a constant reevaluation of protocols on how to proceed forward.

The coordinator of operations and manager for Campus Rec. and the ARC, Ronnie Simpson, remembers the volatility of those, now-infamous, days.

“It reached a point where pretty much all the recreation centers had closed. We still were waiting on word from the university. We reached out and said alright, this is what other areas are doing, we should probably get online and follow the same program,” Simpson said.

As the world around us has increasingly moved to a virtual space over the last 12 months, recreational athletics is not something that can be converted online. The shutdown led to a lot of idle time for the Campus Rec. staff, but that idle time was not used idly. 

Anyone who has worked out in the ARC since it reopened will notice that much of the old equipment is gone, replaced by a host of updated weights and machines.

“We spent the entire summer just reviewing everything. Evaluating our equipment and saying okay this is equipment that we’ve considered taking off or replacing anyway. So, this would be the perfect time to do so,” Simpson said. 

Still, new equipment sounds nice in theory, but if there’s no one to use the machines then what good does it do? As things evolved and new information arose concerning social distancing and masking, Campus Rec. was quick to digest that info and move forward on reopening accordingly.

“Essentially, what we had to do is draft up our own board, our own committee of policies and present it to the university before we got approved to reopen,” Simpson said. “So it’s a lot of relationships, reporting, investigating, doing research, and just finding out what works for us. Even at that point, we weren’t sure it would be successful — there was no blueprint.”

Being forced to take shots in the dark as far as decision-making goes has been a common theme surrounding UTC’s organizational infrastructure. Luckily, Campus Rec. seems to have devised a system that works for them. 

Some universities close their facilities midday for cleaning. UTC has come up with a plan where all stations in the ARC are cleaned hourly by the student staff. The facility gets to remain open while still giving its patrons the promise of health.

Roadblocks from the pandemic still remain. If you walk into the ARC you’ll see the basketball goals still suspended in the air, prohibiting any recreational pick-up basketball games from being played. While some functions have gotten back to a quasi-normal schedule, there are still obstacles to get around before true normalcy is achieved.

“The next steps are continuing to do the things we’ve talked about before, the researching, whether it’s from the CDC, the federal government, from our local branches, seeing what information they have that works best,” Simpson said.

Getting Campus Recreation back to normal is on the top of the list of UTC students who hope to, once again, take full advantage of the athletic amenities the school offers in the near future.

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