School updates athletic protocols as COVID-19 cases surge


Illustration by Sophia Evans

All players and coaches are now required to wear KN95 masks indoors, and indoor sports will now have a limited capacity of under 500 people.

Paul Kurgan

Head of Athletics Terry Barnum announced new COVID-19 protocols in an email sent to all winter athletes Jan. 9.

In his email, Barnum addressed the implementation of new testing policies, game cancellations and the crowd management of indoor sports games.

“From an athletic perspective, this winter break has been eventful—mostly due to the latest surge in COVID cases that is sweeping across the country,” Barnum said. “We have had a number of positive cases in our community and some of those cases have caused us to suspend activity in several athletic programs.”

Barnum said the players and coaches of athletic teams must wear masks both indoors and outdoors. Barnum said any team with an outbreak of four or more linked cases will be required to suspend all team activities for a minimum of seven days.

All players and coaches are now required to wear KN95 masks indoors, and indoor sports will now have a limited capacity of under 500 people.

With 8% of the school community testing positive for COVID-19 after the school conducted testing for all students and faculty Jan. 4, Barnum said athletes need to be more cautious during COVID-19 case surges in order to keep athletics operating in person.

“Hopefully, those delays are behind us and we will be able to resume our athletic calendar with a few notable adjustments,” Barnum said in an email. “Thank you for your patience and understanding during this ever-changing season. ”

Over the winter break, three members of the boys soccer team tested positive for COVID-19. Midfielder Brandon Aghnatios ’23 said while it was challenging to play without the full team, experiencing absences ultimately helped the team understand the value of each teammate.

“We were more diligent about wearing our masks in the team huddle and on the bench,” Aghnatios said. “I would say that the hardships allow us to grow stronger as individuals. At times, you look around, and you would expect that there is less interpersonal warmth because our mouths are covered by white beaks. We know each other well enough at this point that you don’t even need to see each other’s faces to connect with them.”

Aghnatios said players have been largely responsible keeping themselves and others safe by adhering to safety protocols, even without instruction from coaches.

“It has not been a strict environment,” Aghnatios said. “It’s up to the individual players, but as a team, we are vigilant about it, and we don’t need much direction in that regard.”

The girls water polo team lost several plays over the break due to COVID-19 absences, according to wing Amber Nowaczek ’24. Looking ahead, Nowaczek said being safe in practice and being hopeful about game outcomes will help the team lead a successful end to the season.

“[We need to view] losses as growth opportunities rather than purely the end result,” Nowaczek said. “In my opinion, it is essential to maintain a positive and hardworking mindset to achieve our team’s goals.”

Goalkeeper Lena Bagley said the girls water polo coaching staff has been forced to rework the team’s schedule to accommodate for issues.

“COVID-19 has presented challenges to our team because of recent tournament cancellations,” Bagley said. “COVID-19 has brought down morale, and our coaching staff has tried to keep up our energy by scheduling games to make up for our canceled tournaments.”

Midfielder Ariana Azarbal ’22 said the girls soccer team has also been required to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions.

“We missed a great bonding opportunity with the Texas trip being canceled,” Azarbal said. “Coaches enforce that we wear masks indoors, and now on the bench during games.”

Azarbal said she and other seniors have organized opportunities for the team to bond safely.

“We [have planned] some safer bonding activities, and I think the team has been able to connect well,” Azarbal said. “The team is compliant [to COVID-19 masking protocols] because we know the consequences of not wearing [protective masks].”

Head Coach Aaron Huerta said the team is taking further safety measures during practices to keep players and coaches healthy amid the surge in cases.

“The most important part of keeping our players and coaches safe is testing weekly,” Huerta said. “We are very fortunate that the school has the resources to test our team on a weekly basis. We are also being very careful when we [are at weightlifting practices] this offseason. We are wearing masks at all times and keeping our distance from one another as best as possible.”

Although, Huerta said he believes the team may face obstacles due to the new COVID-19 protocols, he said it is important that players and coaches stay optimistic in preparation for the 2022-2023 fall season.

“As a team, we are going to focus on what we can control,” Huerta said. “If we get the opportunity to practice and or lift, we are going to take that opportunity and do our best. If we have a setback, we are going to stay positive and be ready for when we get back to practice and [weight lifting].”

The boys tennis team, which won the CIF and regional championships last season, overcame COVID-19-related barriers before finding successes. Although the team lost four of its top players, some of whom opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns, the squad still achieved success. Tennis Program Head Bo Hardt said he does not anticipate the recent surge will prevent the team from winning another league championship.

“We are going to work hard and improve no matter what,” Hardt said.