When Elon University sent students home in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, club and intramural sports came to an abrupt halt. While Elon offered them during the 2020-21 academic year, social restrictions forced a reduction in offerings and protocols.
Now, 17 months after the pandemic began, there is hope that club and intramural sports are finally returning to normal.
“I’m excited to get both intramurals and club sports back to resembling a whole lot more of what they looked like before the pandemic than what they looked like last year,” Larry Mellinger, Elon University’s Director of Campus Recreation and Wellness, said.
While some club sports teams played games in fall 2020, others were not so lucky. Club soccer was one of the sports that couldn’t practice due to health and safety restrictions.
This year, however, the club soccer team is ready to return to the pitch with competitive games. Senior and team president Sarah Mouton said that, as of now, there are no social or travel restrictions for the team and that they will look to schedule as many matches as possible.
“We’ve been given the go-ahead to pretty much plan the season like it would be normally without any restrictions at all, but obviously we’re still thinking of ways to kind of accommodate those that are still worried about it and have their doubts,” Mouton said.
Last year, Elon’s Campus Recreation and Wellness staff divided club sports into classifications based on how much contact was inherent in the sport. High contact sports, such as ice hockey, rugby and soccer could not compete and had to either opt out of their seasons or could only practice and condition, while sports that require less contact, such as fencing, golf and equestrian, could travel and compete.
While she anticipates a normal year, Mouton understands that COVID-19 still poses a threat to the team’s season and will encourage members to make smart choices regarding social interactions.
“We’re just hoping for the best and scheduling all the games that we can while we’re still allowed to,” Mouton said.
There are currently 25 club sports teams registered to compete during the 2021-22 academic year, ranging from traditional sports, such as soccer, basketball and baseball, to more niche sports, such as equestrian and climbing.
One addition for the university this semester is the eSports Center in Global Commons. Elon’s club eSports team will utilize the space, which opened on August 31 with a grand opening ceremony at 5:30 p.m.
“This space is going to give our club the opportunity to continue to grow and to compete at a high level,” Mellinger said. “We’re excited to give them a space that is specifically designed with gaming in mind.”
For more information on joining a club sports team, click here.
Due to COVID-19, Mellinger said he and the Campus Recreation and Wellness staff made significant adjustments to operate intramural sports during the 2020-2021 academic year.
“We had to change everything we do in a normal year,” Mellinger said. “The biggest challenge was trying to balance fun and community and belonging with safety.”
For the fall semester, Elon’s Campus Recreation and Wellness department reduced intramural offerings to outdoor activities with little contact, such as cornhole and sand volleyball, to prevent the spread of the virus. They required all participants to wear masks while playing and reduced the number of students allowed to take part in competitions.
With social restrictions lessening during the spring semester, Elon Campus Recreation and Wellness began offering intramural sports in indoor spaces and also raised the limits on participants for outdoor activities.
“We focus on participation, creating a sense of community and just bringing folks together in a laid back environment that still allows them to complete or compete, play, or learn a sport,“ Mellinger said. “We started to reopen our indoor facilities because the primary outcome for us was to bring people together and we knew that we had to do something.”
This year, more traditional offerings are returning, with flag football, floor hockey and indoor volleyball currently listed on the fall intramural schedule. The only health restriction currently in place for intramural sports is that unvaccinated students must wear masks when they play.
“As it stands now, intramurals will be going largely back to what they looked like,” Mellinger said.
Mellinger said he believes this year will allow Elon’s Campus Wellness and Recreation department a chance to assess its intramural offerings and make adjustments based on student interest, something they were unable to do last year with such a limited slate of options.
“This year is going to give us the opportunity to take a critical look at what our offerings are in our sports programs and to tap into the needs of the students,” Mellinger said.
Elon students can register to participate in intramural sports by clicking here.
While both club and intramural sports will in large part return to normal this fall, Mellinger said the campus recreation and wellness staff must be “nimble and flexible” to adapt to any safety policy changes from the CDC or the school.
“Obviously, campus recreation and wellness policies have to fall within campus policies,” Mellinger said. “We’re also paying close attention to news coming out from the CDC and will adjust accordingly.”
Though the pandemic is still ongoing, Mellinger anticipates strong participation from Elon students in both club and intramural sports in the fall semester.
“I expect us to have a strong start to the year and for us to be operating at a very high level and very high capacity right from the beginning,” Mellinger said.
For Mellinger, the return to normalcy in both club and intramural sports is long overdue. He said he looks forward to seeing competitions and activities return to full capacity.
“I’m excited to walk out onto our fields on a weekend and see us hosting a match or a tournament and seeing our students doing what they are so passionate about,” Mellinger said.