After a year of games played behind closed doors or with limited capacities, Calvin sports teams are back in action in front of crowds that are closer to “normal.”
The difference is enormous. “It’s always more fun to play in front of people,” said Amber Warners, head coach of the volleyball team.
Calvin currently requires all spectators to wear masks at all events taking place indoors, which is primarily applicable to home volleyball matches this fall. For outdoor events, like soccer and tennis, masks are not required. Calvin will not enforce event capacities or distancing guidelines for either indoor or outdoor events. The university’s indoor masking policy applies to all visitors, regardless of whether or not they’ve been vaccinated.
The policies align with the guidelines set by Calvin’s COVID Response Team for all campus spaces. Athletic Director James Timmer said that the athletics department worked closely with the CRT to come to a decision concerning attendance policies by providing information about stadium capacities and protocols.
The elimination of capacities and distancing guidelines mark a significant change from spring sports matches, when crowds were limited to four guests per Calvin athlete and two guests for visiting team athletes for most sports. Timmer noted that many longtime Calvin volleyball fans who weren’t able to attend last year were excited to be back in their usual seats at Van Noord Arena this fall.
Although some people remain hesitant to join in on big crowds, Timmer said that most fans have been appreciative of Calvin’s efforts to provide a safe but energizing game experience. “I think people have been understanding. Understanding of what we’re trying to do,” Timmer said.
COVID spread between athletes during actual matches has been minimal, according to Timmer, though he acknowledged that it’s harder to track spread among spectators. Last year, Calvin took names and cell phone numbers for fans at events in order to contact people in cases of spread, but the task proved difficult.
For their part, players and coaches are excited to have crowds back and attending matches.
“It’s certainly something we think about but it’s out of our control,” Warners said when asked about attendance guidelines.
Warners emphasized the importance of the support from the Calvin student body, saying that she hopes to see big crowds return to cheer on the Knights after last year’s break from fans.
“We’ve really appreciated [the student body’s] support in the past, and they’ve been loud in certain matches and we just really could use that again,” Warners said.
Emily Ottenhoff, head coach of the women’s soccer team, said that attendance at matches this fall has been “comparable” to past years, given that games take place outdoors. Ottenhoff reiterated that fans do make a difference when the Knights go out and compete.
“One thing is for sure, it is a lot more fun when we have fans there cheering for our student athletes,” Ottenhoff said. “We played a few matches last spring without fans or with limited fans but our job on the field remained the same, trying to get a result.”
Although the less stringent guidelines this fall are an encouraging sign, restrictions could change in the coming days, depending on levels of spread in the area.
“I could see them loosening up, I could also see them tightening down,” Timmer said. The athletic department plans to work with the CRT and Kent County Health Department to constantly reevaluate its policies in response to COVID rates.
In the meantime, Calvin teams will be in action in front of fans, providing an atmosphere that Timmer hopes adds to the sense of community at Calvin.
“For our students, alumni and fans to be at games, you feel part of it. You’re a Knight … And you can’t have that feeling if you don’t allow people in the stands,” Timmer said.