Centennial Conference suspends fall sports

Fall athletes remain positive in the wake of painful news

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2019 NCAA Tournament game with the Muhlenberg College Mules against the MIT College Engineers. Photo courtesy of Muhlenberg College Athletics.

On Tuesday, July 7, the Centennial Conference Presidents Council released their plans for the upcoming fall 2020 athletic season. Since Centennial Conference athletics was suspended back in March, Muhlenberg’s student-athletes as well as the entire Muhlenberg community have been waiting patiently for word on the plans moving forward.

It was decided, following ongoing conversation and guidance from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and local health officials, that the fall season would be suspended indefinitely. 

Even though the Presidents Council is set to review this necessary decision by the end of September, it undoubtedly remains a tough pill to swallow. However, this move will ultimately allow “for a cautious and safe return to practice while providing the flexibility to evaluate the possibility for competition should we feel we can do so safely,” Athletic Director Lynn Tubman said in a statement reacting to the news. 

President Kathleen Harring also weighed in and explained that this decision “provides flexibility in acknowledging the evolving nature of the current health crisis.”

While taking more time to assess and monitor this situation is critical, it also goes without saying that Muhlenberg’s student-athletes are most eager to return to the field in any form and eventually play. At the same time, however, they understand that the safety and health of the entire school comes first and foremost. 

For star quarterback Mike Hnatkowsky ‘21, receiving this news was surely disappointing. “I was not upset with the decision as I believe the conference did what they feel is right for us as student-athletes. I am upset that there will be no [training] camp and [that I] cannot be around my teammates and coaches like we are when we are in season,” he explained.

Much like Hnatkowsky, field hockey’s Marlee Siegel ‘21 was also hurt by the news of suspension. “Honestly, hearing that the season was ‘suspended’ was upsetting at first,” she said. 

“I did not know what to expect, but I know that we all were hoping for good news. Although it was not the announcement we wanted, it is promising that we still have a chance to play this season, so I am just trying to stay as positive as possible,” Siegel added

Voicing his concerns for his fellow senior student-athletes, Hnatkowsky acknowledged that while many fall sports including football may be flexed to the spring, there still may be those who will be forced to forego their last year of eligibility. “The reality is that some kids that are rising seniors will never put pads on again and decide to graduate and go on with their lives,” he said

This display of thoughtfulness alongside Siegel’s positive attitude truly shed light on the connectedness that is shared among Muhlenberg’s athletic community. 

In describing what the upcoming spring season is bound to look and feel like, Hnatkowsky stated simply, “The spring season is going to be very interesting.” Being the natural competitor that he is, having the opportunity to go up against any opponent is exciting. 

While shifting the football season to the spring could mean a shortened season and perhaps a missed National Championship run, Hnatkowsky has some concerns.

“If we were to play in the spring and not have a chance to compete for a national championship, that would not seem as entertaining. While I do think a shortened season could be very beneficial for our program but wasting a year of eligibility for a conference schedule does not make much sense to me,” said Hnatskowsky 

While nothing is set in stone and while there is still much to sort out, Hnatkowsky brings up several key question marks. 

For Siegel, too, there were many questions that she was asking at Muhlenberg’s town hall hosted by the Athletic Department on July 9.

“Absolutely. I had (and still have) an endless number of questions. Personally, I was mainly concerned about the reality of playing in the midst of a pandemic. Would we still have a preseason? Will we be able to use the locker rooms and the weight room? Will visitors be able to watch the games? Will we have to wear masks while we play? Will we be given an additional year of eligibility if we only play a portion of the season?” Siegel explained.

While both Siegel and Hnatkowky are remaining positive through so much unknown, they understand that Lynn Tubman and the entire athletic department is working hard to provide answers to their questions.

“The town hall and the athletic department have been very helpful and informative during this crazy past week,” Hnatkowsky said. 

“At this point, nothing is definite. One of few things we know is that, if given the opportunity, we would love to play in any capacity,” Siegel stated. 

As these competitors and the leaders of their respective teams demonstrate, it is clear to the entire Muhlenberg community just how eager and anxious these student-athletes are to return to the field.

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