Clark College has announced it will not allow any spring sports this season, a move that puts it at odds with most other community colleges in the Northwest.
The decision affects baseball, softball and track and field.
Coaches in those sports were notified by college administration of the decision on Friday. Many had broken the news to their athletes by Monday.
Clark had initially planned to join most of the 36 schools in the Northwest Athletic Conference in playing an abbreviated season starting in late March. Instead, the Penguins will join Portland Community College, Shoreline, South Puget Sound, and Douglas (B.C.) in not having spring sports for a second consecutive year. Yakima Valley College has not made a determination yet regarding spring sports.
“We need to maintain our strong COVID mitigation plan that prioritizes the health and safety of our students and staff,” Clark College President Karin Edwards said in a statement released Tuesday. “Our focus is to develop a return-to-play plan for sports for fall term 2021. … I know this is disappointing news for our student athletes, especially for those in their sophomore years who have not had opportunity to compete during COVID-19.”
Clark coaches and athletes expressed sadness and anger upon hearing the news.
Clark baseball coach Mark Magdaleno has had 42 players earn scholarships at four-year schools in his four years leading the Penguins. Seeing an entire graduating class of sophomores miss out on almost all of their Clark career has been hard, he said.
“Two years, athletes have come here to get an education and use baseball or their sport as a vehicle to earn their degree,” Magdaleno said. “Is it disappointing? That’s an understatement. We need to find a way to help these young people fight through this situation, which is what I’m going to do.”
Their frustration is compounded by the fact that athletic competition has returned to high schools across Southwest Washington.
“It’s very disappointing, considering the school across street (Hudson’s Bay High School) is playing,” said Clark softball coach Bryan Blehm. “Every high school is competing and the girls see that. Meanwhile, I’ve got a sophomore class that never got to play one league game.”
Clark College spokesperson Kelly Love said surveys of Northwest community college presidents left too much ambiguity in how testing, contact tracing and transportation should take place for Clark to feel comfortable going forward with athletics.
“What it reinforced is that the recommendations have not been prescriptive,” Love said. “They are open to many interpretations. It’s difficult in a short amount of time to answer many important questions. It’s such a shame because we know how patient our student-athletes have been.”
Some coaches asked why Clark isn’t allowing outside athletics while allowing dental, mechanical and other classes that are held inside?
“When you look at our dental program and how it’s structured to ensure a strict safety protocol, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison,” Love said. “We have face shields and other safety protocols. The college has spent a lot of time examining which classes can be brought back in a safe manner.”
In Longview, Lower Columbia College is going forward with spring athletics. Athletic Director Kirc Roland said he respects Clark’s decision not to compete.
“Any administration has to make a decision that they’re comfortable with,” Roland said. “They know their campus and they have to trust the decisions they think are right.”
Yet Roland is confident that Lower Columbia has taken significant steps to ensure the safety of its students and athletic personnel. He said the school has learned a lot since it began bringing students back on campus in limited numbers last fall.
“Our emergency security team done a great job to offer temperature checks, hand-washing stations and other ways to ensure safety,” Roland said. “My opinion is these kids are safer in the controlled environment we can provide in a team setting.”
Roland praised the leadership of NWAC Executive Director Marco Azurdia in trying to schedule spring competition across such a large conference where colleges have differing COVID-19 protocols.
Likewise, Magdaleno and Blehm said Clark Athletic Director Laura LeMasters has done everything she can to advocate for the interests of Clark’s athletes.
LeMasters said that every athlete’s scholarship and financial aid will be honored.
““We are working with our student athletes to see how we can best support them and help them be successful in their athletic and academic careers,” she said.
Yet Blehm said he worries about the long-term impact not playing for two years will have on Clark’s softball program.
“The softball community is small, so people know what everyone is doing,” he said. “It’s going to be really hard to recruit when they know you haven’t played or practiced in two years.”
Blehm also aches for the players who never got to enjoy the closure of one final competition.
“In softball, there isn’t anywhere else to play,” he said. “These girls have college, then they’re done.”