Student athletes react to fall and winter sports cancellation

During the last few weeks, Roger Williams University and the Commonwealth Coast Conference made the decision to cancel all fall and winter sports for the 2020-2021 season.

The verdict for winter sports cancellation was made on Jan. 11 and announced on Jan. 13 in an official statement on the RWU Athletics website. A short while later, athletics confirmed fall sports were cancelled as well.

University President Ioannis Miaoulis, Vice President of Student Life John King and Athletics Director Kiki Jacobs were at the forefront of this choice.

Jacobs explained the factors that led to the decision to cancel the athletic seasons. With a consistently high number of COVID-19 cases and a new, increasingly contagious strand of COVID-19 being discovered, the statistical incline was too great to risk for the RWU community.

“What we do in athletics can affect the entire campus,” Jacobs said. “This decision was not made lightly.”

While they are disappointed, the athletes understand the reasons for the cancellation and believe the health and safety of the RWU community should always take precedence.

Sam Mancinelli, senior captain of the women’s basketball team, initially felt shocked at the realization that her senior year season was being called off. She said nothing could have prepared her for this reality.

“It’s one of the worst feelings I have ever felt,” Mancinelli said. “The best word I can use to describe it would be unfinished. I feel so unfinished not just because I got my last season stripped away, but because I got my last season stripped away from me with THIS team.”

As sad and disappointed as she feels, Mancinelli has been uplifted by her team members, who reassured her they are there for her during this challenging time.

Bailey Laviolette, senior captain of the women’s soccer team, spoke on behalf of her team in saying they were disappointed to hear fall sports had been canceled.

“We hoped for better news coming back to Roger but we are happy to be able to support our fellow spring sport athletes,” Laviolette said.

Spring sports were canceled for the 2020 season after campus life unexpectedly shut down due to the pandemic. If the spring sports season is canceled this year, it would be the second season in a row.

“Red shirts” is a term used to describe an athlete’s ability to gain a year of eligibility to play in a collegiate sport if they are unable to compete during a full season throughout their years at college. Since all athletes no longer have the opportunity to play in a regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic, the acceptance of an athlete’s ability or reason to “red shirt” has been reconsidered.

“The NCAA has given all student-athletes (fall, winter and spring) the opportunity to have another season of eligibility,” Jacobs said.

Rudy Jean, a senior on the men’s basketball team, decided he would take advantage of the opportunity to “red shirt” and play a final season.

“I feel like everyone should get four years to play college basketball, so with that being said, I’d stay just to play,” Jean said. “Since [I was] a little kid I’ve always wanted to play college basketball. I’d want to finish off my career properly when the time’s right and it’s safe to play.”

Laviolette decided she won’t “red shirt” her senior year season.

“I plan on beginning my career in marketing after I graduate this May, but I can’t wait to come back and cheer on my teammates next fall,” Laviolette said.

For Mancinelli, it has proven harder to make a decision to play or turn down another year of her sport.

“I love playing basketball at Roger Williams and I love my teammates and coaches,” Mancinelli said. “For now though, there are so many things going on that I think I need more time to think things through.”

Many teams have been regularly hosting Zoom calls to stay connected and support one another.

“Having such amazing teammates and our supportive soccer family has made this experience a little easier,” Laviolette said. “Personally, I know that I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the two other seniors on the team: Sinead Hanley and Jill Houle.”

Basketball is an outlet for Jean. With his athletic career on pause, he said he has been finding ways to keep himself occupied with activities like reading, writing or making sure to engage in self-care.

“My goals for the spring are to stay in shape, read more and stay as connected as possible with others under COVID procedures,” Jean said.

Modified practices under COVID-19 safety regulations have been approved for all fall and winter athletes. Coaches have informed their teams that practices will start on Feb. 15.

Although it doesn’t resolve seasons being canceled, RWU and the Athletic Department are working to give athletes a limited version of a season by allowing these practices in safe and healthy environments.

“Although practices may be tough going in without ever having another game in sight, my goal is for my teammates to know that I am there being just as competitive and upbeat as I would be had we had a full schedule of games ahead,” Mancinelli said. “My goal for the spring is to take in every moment — to enjoy the time I have left at Roger Williams with all the people who make this place something I never want to have to say goodbye to.”