Highschool Athletes Amid Coronavirus


Charles Taylor, Sports Editor

The Coronavirus pandemic has kept American teens inside their houses, away from in-school education and away from school sports to avoid in-person social interaction. LASA is no exception to this. Austin Independent School District’s indefinite closure of all its campuses on April 5 ensured the disruption of normal schedules for all students, specifically for student-athletes.

The effects of these restrictions are exemplified by the experiences of junior LASA cross country and long-distance track captain Emily Thompson, senior LBJ baseball player Jack Murphy and senior LBJ tennis player Aytahn Benavi. The three have been faced with the decision to either temporarily drop athletic pursuits entirely or to think of alternative ways to continue training for sports they would otherwise be participating in with their teammates. Furthermore, athletes, such as Thompson, who plan to pursue athletic careers after high school may have their collegiate futures in jeopardy.

Thompson said training alone has meant less team support and a lack of competition and motivation that will be harmful as she trains in the future. In addition, Thompson sees the isolation aspect of the pandemic as having direct negative effects on her future in the sport, especially on a collegiate level.

“It makes practicing a lot harder when you don’t have your whole team around you to motivate you to keep going and keep working to get faster,” Thompson said. “And in the future, I might not be getting as good training now which might impact cross country or track next year. And then, I guess, also just for college recruiting. This might impact my career in [track] in the future.”

According to Murphy, the changes in routine caused by the pandemic have allowed him more time for frequent practicing. However, training at home can become monotonous according to Murphy, who has not been able to practice new pursuits or as he would with his team.

“I have been training pretty often during the quarantine because of the extra free time I’ve had,” Murphy said. “I haven’t gotten to try anything new during quarantine, and it has been boring but manageable.”

For Benavi, even though the team’s end-of-season tournament was disrupted by the pandemic, his future in the sport is not harmed significantly. Since Benavi is not playing tennis in college, he said his focus is on improvement in the game instead of recruitment.

“The goal for the team at that point was just trying to get as far into the final tournament of the season as we could,” Benavi said. “But for me, I’m always just trying to improve at the game. And I’m not going to be playing college tennis, so it’s not like my recruiting stock has dropped or anything … so it really wasn’t of too much concern to my future as a tennis player because I’m going to keep on playing tennis.”

Similarly to Benavi, Murphy is seeing little impact from the pandemic on his future in the sport, as college admissions is a non-factor for him and his pathway to college sports is already set. Instead, Murphy lamented losing his senior season.

“I don’t think the virus will have too much impact on my playing career, but still having your senior year cut short is terrible luck,” Murphy said. “I am going to play at Bucknell University … this hasn’t affected my scholarships or admissions at all, I was accepted before COVID-19 really took off in the U.S.”

Along with not being able to practice with her teammates, Thompson said she has not been allowed to practice on public tracks because they have been closed and police are kicking people out. As a result, Thompson has had to resort to longer distance road workouts in preparation for the fall cross country season.

“I can’t do any actual workouts on the track anymore,” Thompson said. “I switched to a lot more road and hill workouts, which means a lot more long-distance stuff rather than shorter speed work or intervals, which is normally what I would focus on more during track season.”

While unable to practice with teammates or play against his usual opponents, Benavi said he has been able to train at home. Along with maintaining his tennis skills, he has found ways to stay fit that maintain social distancing. In addition, with the extra time afforded to him, Benavi said he has been able to watch more tennis which he hopes can also count as training.

“There’s a wall of concrete next to the driveway, which is a great practice tool,” Benavi said. “And you’re not hitting the ball hard, but all of the movement is what you’re training, and all these fine sorts of movements are what make a huge difference in the actual game. As far as fitness goes, it’s still legal to be outside and to do cardio stuff. I can still go on a bike ride, and I can still do some free weights. I can do some of this stuff surrounding the sport that sometimes I don’t have time to do.”