Mask Mandate, Gym Closures Impact Winter Sports

Basketball+players+Raymond+Baez+24%2C+Jackson+Ostrowski+22%2C+Theo+Johnson+22%2C+and+David+Kaplansky+22%2C+huddle+with+their+coaches+during+timeout.

David Cutler

Basketball players Raymond Baez ’24, Jackson Ostrowski ’22, Theo Johnson ’22, and David Kaplansky ’22, huddle with their coaches during timeout.

With the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts, the School is doubling down on its mask mandate during after-school sports.

Over 45,000 fully vaccinated people in the state tested positive over the holiday break, the Boston Herald reported Tuesday. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms can occur 2-14 days after exposure.

The School’s mask mandate will remain in place for the winter sports season to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Students have been able to “get used to wearing masks in the past few weeks,” according to Athletic Director Jeff Gates.

“It’s not always easy, but it’s something that they learned, and they have done well,” Gates said. “Athletes realize that sometimes masks fall down when they’re running, so they need to find a stopping point to wear it back on. We’ll continue to do that. I’m really excited to see players playing on the court.”

Still, some athletes playing basketball have found wearing a mask during intense exercise difficult, especially when sprinting up and down the court.

Everyone I’ve talked to says that [masks are] really difficult to play with, and it’s constantly falling. Still, we will do what we have to do to stay safe.”

— Jarrel Okorougo '22, Varsity I Basketball player

Jackson Ostrowski ’22, a member of the School’s Varsity II Boys Basketball team, reported that wearing a mask “makes it harder to breathe and be active in games.”

“During the games, the mask becomes sweaty quickly,” Ostrowski said. “Having a wet piece of clothing held against your face is not fun. The masks easily slide down your nose, but the referee doesn’t bother unless your mask is completely off.”

Varsity I Boys Basketball player Jarrel Okorougo ’22 echoed Ostrowski’s sentiments.

“The most challenging part about it is that it’s hard to breathe,” Okorougo said. “You have sweat in your mask, and you get tired more easily. Everyone I’ve talked to says that it’s really difficult to play with, and it’s constantly falling.”

“Still, we will do what we have to do to stay safe,” Okorougo said.

Curling coach Amanda Eppers said that having to wear masks is a “total pain,” presenting its own challenges for her sport.

“Especially having to wear the N95s, you really can’t hear each other without pulling your mask down,” Eppers said. “It’s different for us because we are out on the ice, and there are specific calls to make, like ‘Sweep.’ Skips need to tell their teammates what kind of throw to give, and since they can’t read lips, it makes it that much harder to communicate.

However, Eppers said she is grateful for the chance to keep her athletes playing during the pandemic.

Michael Young ’23, who returned to curling after not playing a sport last year, said that his glasses get fogged because of the mask.

“I can’t see very well, and I have to clear them out a bunch, which proves especially challenging when I have to have my hands free,” Young said.

According to Varsity Girls Basketball player Leni Hicks-Dutt ’23, wearing masks makes breathing more challenging.

“The air in a gym typically isn’t the freshest anyway, and the mask just makes it worse,” Hicks-Dutt said. “It’s really hard, but there is no other option. All of us want to remain safe.”

As an after-school activity, Theo Johnson ’22 does cardio and lifting in fitness.

“It makes it harder to do what you’re trying to do, which is focus on breathing and form,” Johnson said.

With the recent surge in cases, the School also lost access to the courts of Pine Manor and Hellenic College, making scheduling practices and games more difficult.

“We hope in January that we’ll have access to Pine Manor,” Gates said. “[The gym] has made practices more crowded. With the access to another gym, it should allow more teams to have more practices.”