Pima student athletes given new life after lost season

By Nate Martinez

By now, one would have to be living under a rock to not know that COVID-19 really hindered college athletics. Many student athletes in the United States had their seasons cut drastically short thanks to the virus.

For some, this is heartbreaking, but they can look forward to another chance to play next season. For others, this may have been the last year of eligibility to make one more run at a potential championship. 

Things seemed to have hit an all time low for student athletes across the United States until a recent decision by the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association). On October 22, the NJCAA decided that the 2020-2021 year of eligibility would not count towards student athlete eligibility. This basically means that athletes who were to compete, or had their seasons cut short would have another year to do what they love. 

The decision comes after the COVID-19 virus pandemic hit the United States and was declared an official emergency on February third. As a result, colleges across the nation cancelled all winter and spring sports. 

I was able to speak with two student athletes and get to see how they feel about the latest ruling by the NJCAA. We were also able to discuss the challenges that go into the upcoming season and what they have been doing to keep in shape and prepare.

Valentina Franco is a midfielder for the Pima women’s soccer team. She has started almost every game for her team as a freshman. Franco is also a leader off the field, participating in charity organizations around Tucson and keeping her grades high with a 3.7 GPA.

Alex Kelch plays infield for the Pima men’s baseball team. He hit a .286 batting average during the season and maintains a 3.92 GPA. 

Both of these student athletes’ leadership skills have earned them the Lawrence R. Toledo leadership award. 

The news that the NJCAA would allow another year of eligibility for athletes came as a sense of overwhelming relief to Alex Kelch.

“During the fall when the article came out about the renewal of our eligibility, it took a pretty good amount of weight off my shoulders and I could tell it did the same to a lot of my teammates through the conversations we had in our group chats,” Kelch said. “It was tough for us older guys that didn’t really have anywhere to move on to waiting for a decision, but once it was made we were all happy with the circumstances.” 

Relief would be short lived however, as may college athletes everywhere must now adapt to new rules and schedule changes. 

“Just adapting to the new regulations, it’s just something we’ve never experienced before,” Franco said. “Being able to conform to new rules is something I think that every athlete should take into consideration. We all just wanna play. We all need to do what we need to do to play.”

Kelch had something a little bit different to say regarding adaptation to the very odd upcoming season. He details more about building comradery with his teammates. 

“Yes, all sports around the world at all ages are going to have totally new looks,” Kelch said. “I think the best thing to do is just embrace the situation and make the best of it… For me personally, I feel the toughest challenges this year are going to be with the amount of guys on the team and having to build tight bonds so quickly before we get going into our competitive seasons. There is going to be no long fall to make the new connections as we are used to, but as an older teammate, I am excited for that challenge and excited to take the new and young guys under my wing and show them what it takes to be a great player and person from my own experiences.”

Many student athletes feel the immense pressure of the oncoming season, as well as the need to stay on top of their classes. The transition to virtual classes this year definitely doesn’t alleviate any of the said pressure..

“The athletic department is keeping good communication with us,” Franco said. “They’re giving us information on the season. They’re always updating us and giving us hope one day that we will play. This is something we’ve been used to, it’s difficult. as far as with schoolwork it’s just adapting. As a student athlete, we are used to balancing school with sports. I think that student athletes handle it well because we know we need the grades.”

Both athletes said that adaptation is key in these times.

“The school transition to me was quite difficult at first as I was becoming very distracted when I was supposed to be doing school work, or even forgetting about assignments until the last minute,” Kelch said. “But over time I really worked it out and found that writing down a good schedule with time blocks helped me stay on top of everything. What also helped was the fact that I am a third year student and have completed all of my requirements for my [Associate of Arts degree] so I am not enrolled in as many courses. I feel the NJCAA should do something about that and maybe make it to where, if a school is still going virtual, you don’t have to be enrolled in as many credits to be eligible? That just came to my mind but it would make sense.”