Like the rest of the fall-sport athletes across the nation, the Hillsdale College Chargers waited all summer to see what their seasons would hold, or if they’d have a season at all. Similar to what happened this spring, the NCAA Division II fall sports seasons faced gradual cancelation beginning in July. For Hillsdale, this affects the football, volleyball, and cross country teams.
The Great Midwest Athletic Conference began by postponing the start of practices to Aug. 28 and the start of competition to Sept. 24. Fall sports would still go on, just with about a month-long delay.
Then, on Aug. 5, the NCAA Division II Presidents Council canceled all of the 2020 fall championships “due to the operational, logistical, and financial challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to an NCAA Division II press release.
“After reviewing and discussing the Board of Governors’ directives, the Division II Presidents Council made the difficult decision that holding fall championships in any capacity was not a viable or fiscally responsible option for Division II,” said Sandra Jordan, chancellor of South Carolina Aiken and chair of the council.
While teams would no longer be able to compete for national titles, they would still be allowed to compete at the conference level. That changed, however, the following week.
The G‑MAC announced on Aug. 10 that championships for “high-risk contact sports,” including volleyball and football, will be postponed to the spring. Cross country will still continue with a postponed schedule, and the G‑MAC championship race set for Oct. 24.
James Gensterblum, director of athletic communications for Hillsdale College, said the department has been adjusting on a daily basis to all of the changes, but remains optimistic.
“It’s been hard for everybody. This is such an unprecedented situation,” Gensterblum said. “We’re dealing with a situation that’s changing day to day, sometimes hour to hour or minute to minute. It’s definitely been a real challenge but I feel like the department has held together really well.”
As of now, the Hillsdale men’s and women’s cross country teams will be competing in several invitationals, as well as the G‑MAC championship. The football and volleyball teams will continue in their limited training, with the goal of a modified season in the spring.
Head volleyball coach Chris Gravel is approaching the new schedule with positivity. He said this will give the team more time to train rather than beginning competition right away in August.
“They’re disappointed, but at the same time, too, this could be a nice opportunity. It will give our freshmen more time to adjust and we’re looking to take full advantage of that,” Gravel said. “We were going to be good this year, and now we’re hoping to be even better.”
He said the team has been doing its normal spring workouts at Baw Beese Lake as well as many other mental exercises.
“We kept that mentality up all summer because we didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said. “They’ve come in ready to go. There were a lot of things we wanted to do when we got back from that trip back in March, and now they’re still on the books.”
Gensterblum said the athletic department as a whole is also keeping a positive attitude, looking forward to what the spring semester may bring.
“We are still optimistic that we’ll be able to have some kind of season in the spring. Obviously, that all depends on a lot of other factors that we won’t know the answer to for a while as well,” Gensterblum said. “We’ve done our best to try to give kids a path to something here, to some kind of athletic experience this fall, this spring, and this season.”
Head football coach Keith Otterbein said while he’s looking ahead to the spring, his team is trying to get in as much practice as they can now.
“We’re supposed to play some games in the spring, but that’s kind of beyond where we’re at,” he said. “We’re just trying to get a pretty good rhythm in the fall. For the next six weeks, our plan is to run and lift and try to get in as much football as possible within the NCAA regulations.”
Otterbein said he’s confident in his players’ attitudes and abilities.
“We’re going to get the very most we can and gain ground over the opponents that may not be adapting to adversity,” he said. “Knowing the character of the kids, they’re going to be focused and be able to make quick adjustments to the ever-changing rules.”