“Love, hope, fear, faith—these make humanity; These are its sign and note and character.” -Robert Browning
This past academic year, my goal for these blog posts was to temper a little bit of humanity into each one. I wanted to illustrate that while the NIRSA Championship Series offers a premier experience for club and intramural participants, there is always room for growth and new opinions. This post, though, might have a stronger focus on humanity than my previous ones.
Our members—from our NIRSA Championship Series executive and work team members to our national and regional tournament staffs—have worked tirelessly over the last year readying and implementing changes and upgrades to our programming to help continue creating a product we can be proud to display to our participants from around the globe. The tournaments we have produced make me proud to be a member of this organization and have brought a sense of excitement and purpose to our student-athletes this year—as they’ve done in previous years. The feedback we’ve received from participants and volunteers since the NIRSA Championship Series’ inception in 2006 has allowed us to scrutinize and advance the needle in terms of participant experience and services.
This spring was to be no different; we’ve been preparing to host the NIRSA National Basketball Championship and the USTA Tennis on Campus National Championship for months now. However, in light of concerns related to the COVID-19 virus, these planned tournaments will not take place. The 2020 NIRSA National Basketball Championship in Wichita, Kansas and the USTA Tennis on Campus National Championship in Orlando, Florida—along with other spring programming—have been cancelled.
The discussions about—and the finality of—these decisions broke our hearts. The announcements to our participants, volunteers, and other stakeholders shattered what was already broken.
Processing this experience
Our participants look forward to opportunities to venture beyond their campuses and take their collegiate experiences to new heights through spirited play in our regional and national tournaments. Many club and intramural teams and programs see our tournaments as a crown jewel in their seasons, a pinnacle they train for over the course of months and even years. I have met and spoken with many administrators with participating teams over the years, and many say that our regional and national tournaments are dates that get circled on their calendars. A select few even know they may not win a regional or national tournament, but they still treat the opportunity to play like it’s their world championship. They do so because it’s the onsite experience and the practices leading up to the tournaments that bond a team. It’s the camaraderie and skills formed through hard work and dedication on and off the playing surface that make these opportunities unique and memorable. For many, NIRSA Championship Series events are what they most fondly remember about their time in college.
These events—and the opportunities for growth, which they provided—are now unavailable to our spring participants. Personally, I couldn’t be more saddened by this. My heart especially goes out to our graduating participants. The lack of culmination and closure brings with it so many emotions: frustration, anger, disappointment, sorrow, incompleteness. All of these feelings are valid. These individuals are being slighted out of building some of the most lasting memories of their collegiate careers with their teammates.
To those of you experiencing this whirlwind of feelings: Embrace it, explore it, express it. I am not just talking about missing a NIRSA event. I am also talking about losing those last moments of your college career. Spring is usually a celebration of accomplishment and commencement, and those milestones have been abruptly halted. The very moments for which you have been preparing are not—or are in danger of not—coming to fruition. This is not a minor inconvenience. These moments have meaning, and that meaning may hold a special place with you. Reflect on your emotions. You have that right.
Welcome to the largest team
I don’t think I need to fill anyone in on what’s been going on the last few weeks. The whirlwind of statistics, information, and mandates brought forth by news outlets and government officials has created a wide range of emotions. Anxiety, confusion, annoyance, unhappiness, loneliness, and uncertainty seem to be ruling the days as of late. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to some unprecedented decisions by our government officials and health organizations. Many of us are now experiencing a “stay-at-home” mandate from said administrations or from our workplaces. Limits to public gatherings and open venues have many of us wondering how serious this pandemic will get.
You may feel inclined to break some of those protocols, to venture out and carry on with daily life as it was before this all occurred. Please, I implore you, listen to our health officials and follow the protocols. Whether you think so or not, humanity is now all on the same team. We must do what we can to limit physical contact for the sake of those with compromised health, to keep health care infrastructures from reaching critical intake, and to overall limit exposure so that we can flatten the curve and get through this global phenomenon. We are all role players on this team, and our role is that of bench players. We need to stay in place, minimize negative impact, and cheerlead those who are engaged in mitigating and stopping this pandemic. Health care professionals and essential workers need us to maintain our places at home and to physically distance ourselves from one another.
Understand that physical distancing does not mean cutting off social contact or physical exercise. There are all sorts of messaging platforms we can use to stay connected to each other. Utilize those platforms to keep up with friends and family. There are also lots of online resources available to help you stay physically active in your own homes. Acceptable outdoor opportunities include walks, hikes, and runs (just keep within health organization suggestions). Creating networks and outlets for yourself will allow you to weather these next weeks and months without endangering others. Hang in there, team. You can do this.
On a more positive note, I’m proud to say that the Championship Series is already looking ahead to the next season, which starts in the fall. The executive team has begun looking at improvements and efficiencies to help further streamline regional and national fall tournaments. Work team chairs have been assessing needs going into next year as well so they can better function internally prior to and during the academic year. If anything, the Championship Series now has a head start going into next year. Incoming Executive Chair Marty Dempsey and incoming 1st Vice Chair Ashley Lax have been absolutely instrumental in implementing new strategies within the Championship Series to further align ourselves with the Series 2.0’s long-term vision. Once we look at the analyses of our data and work team assessments, we can continue working towards this alignment.
Make no mistake, this is not the end of the Championship Series—not by a long shot. What we have now is an opportunity to improve and strategize. The Series will return, and you will not see a happier group of work team members and volunteers at your regional and national sites. We’ve always prided ourselves on giving our participants 110%. The success of our efforts is never clearer than when participants and volunteers engage with one another at check-in—smiles appear and the enthusiasm from both parties is obvious. The opportunity to create something we all love will return. When next season begins, that love will be felt all around us as we gather to celebrate something that transcends sport and volunteerism: the human connection.