Queen’s rookies remain driven despite COVID cancellations

First-year athletes share their attitudes on a semester without sports 

Rookies are looking at the year as an oppourtunity for growth.
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Malcolm Shields faced a difficult decision on whether or not to attend Queen’s when all fall sports were cancelled in early June. 

While COVID-19 ultimately didn’t stop the incoming men’s rugby rookie from coming to Queen’s, it didn’t make his decision any easier—originally, he and his parents were keen on deferring for one year.

“[If I deferred], I would have the proper frosh week and everything. But I just wanted to go and get ‘er done.”

With most classes at Queen’s being held online in the fall semester, first-year students will be missing out on first-time university experiences—especially incoming athletes, who will be missing their first seasons as Gaels.

On June 8, OUA announced the cancellation of sanctioned sport programming until December 31. Since some rookies have lost their first season, planning ahead for a sixth year at Queen’s to finish up their undergrad and use all five years of eligibility could be an appropriate decision.
 
Shields managed to secure a place in residence, so he’ll be making the trip from his home in B.C. to Kingston this fall.

Shields said men’s rugby Head Coach David Butcher told him the likelihood of deferring was low. He said if Queen’s let one person defer because of COVID-19, it’d set precedent for countless others to follow suit. 

A mass deferral would cause problems for the University and team rosters. The class of 2025 would essentially double in size, requiring more first-year courses, spots in residence, and having more young players on teams, Shields said.

“It’s either our year takes a bullet, or the next [few years] take a piece of the bullet,” Shields said.
 
“I’m still only 17 […] I’m playing guys who are 23. It’s a huge gap in physical development. I was bummed out, it sucks that I won’t be able to play the proper season in my first year. But, at the same time, I wasn’t too upset about it because it’s going to give me a year or so to develop [physically] and understand how they do things.” 
 
For university athletes, athletic scholarships are often crucial to whether or not they compete. On its website, Queen’s Athletics says it “is committed to honouring [Athletic Financial Award] agreements.”
 
“All I know is that, I think I should be [receiving my scholarship], because I’m still training with the team and practicing, we’re just not going to have any games,” incoming football player Taran Birdi told The Journal. 
 
“I’m supposed to have a meeting with Coach [Steve] Snyder […] and the whole entire team within the next two weeks, and we should know more information then.”
 
Birdi struggled with the pandemic and the unknown future of the team, but is keeping a positive mindset. 
 
“When Ontario was hit really bad, I was thinking, ‘Okay, is it even worth going?’ But, since everything has [started to] settle down, I’m having no second thoughts,” 
Birdi said. 
 
Parker Janes, an incoming rowing team member, mentioned the unique issues rowing faces due to being primarily run through local clubs.
 
“Without a racing season, we don’t really have any reason to train as a university team through Queen’s at the moment. Currently, pieces of the team who are in Kingston are training out of a Kingston rowing club, and the rest of the team currently and possibly through the rest of the fall, are training at their home clubs until we can come back together in the spring or whenever the university opens back up and train as a team again,” he told The Journal.
 
Janes shared a similar view to Shields in having time to develop his abilities during pandemic.
 
“Losing my first year is definitely tough […] but it’s kind of nice that COVID is giving me time to train more and out on my own to get better. I’m taking it as a kind of year of work instead 
of a year off.”
 
Bryana Buttar will be joining the women’s soccer team in the fall, and is in a more unique situation than the typical rookie, as she’s transferring from the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) in B.C. Buttar won Canada West Rookie of the Year in her last season at UFV. She committed to transfer to Queen’s before the pandemic hit Canada hard, conscious that she would be redshirted—meaning she’d be practicing with the team and playing in a limited number of games, if at all—for her first season. 
 
Luckily, she won’t have to sit out two seasons in a row and will join the team as a full, non redshirted member in 2021. 
 
COVID-19 hasn’t kept Buttar away from soccer by any means. 
 
She has been training with women’s and men’s soccer teams in B.C., as well as personal soccer and strength trainers. All of it comes with COVID-19 safety precautions like hand sanitizing, distancing, mask wearing, and not touching the ball with your hands. 
 
“I’m trying to keep [life] as normal as I can,” she said.   
 
Women’s soccer team Head Coach Dave McDowell told The Journal that the first-year players are already becoming friendly with one another despite being apart.
 
“With COVID, they actually know each other better [than a first-year group would normally at this point]. Because of some of the things we’ve been doing online, and the way we set things up, and some of the mentorship, our first years were involved with our returning players much, much earlier,” McDowell said. 
 
Now, with their seasons another year away, Queen’s rookies have learned to look at the pandemic as an opportunity for personal and physical improvement rather than a barrier towards it. 
 
“[I’ve learned that] what’s out of my control, I can’t do anything about,” Shields said.
 
“You just got to hope the grass is greener on the other side.” 

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