Slippery Rock University had to suspend all fall sports this semester until December 31, leaving the men’s and women’s cross-country teams disappointed over the loss of their season and the chance to bring more NCAA Championships home to The Rock.
Slippery Rock cross-country coach John Papa isn’t letting COVID-19 and its regulations stop his teams from preparing for a possible indoor track season in the future. In his 34 years at SRU, Papa never would’ve imagined following up a women’s outdoor winning title year with no season at all. However, Papa is keeping a good attitude and is hopeful for the future of his seasons despite COVID-19.
His teams are having voluntary practices, allowing those who can safely contribute a chance to remain in shape. Papa says the teams are “fortunate for what they can do.” When asked about the decision on fall sports within other leagues, Papa mentioned how high schools are trying it out and how it is a great possibility for SRU.
He also believes that the administration did what they could to avoid taking the heat and he continues to “honor their decision.” Since both cross-country teams are given the opportunity to practice, they are ready for PSAC gameplay at any time.
“We’re staying ready,” Papa said. “If a season is a go, we will certainly be ready.”
Even so, the 2021 season could very well have a big question mark by it as well. With indoor events, remaining six feet apart could become an issue, and spectators likely will still not be allowed to be present. Cross country, not being a contact sport — like football or soccer — can hopefully remain in the realm of Pennslyvania State Athletic Conference play.
A lack of season won’t affect Papa’s 2021 athletes who will not be graduating. For some of Papa’s senior student-athletes, this whole situation has been devastating, and others just don’t care, as it is for the safety of everyone.
“Down the road, they may look back and think about how this final season was stolen from them,” Papa said. “All me and the underclassmen can do is rally around them in high hopes.”
With more time on his hands, Papa is still keeping busy with recruiting, Zoom calls and practices. There are roughly 15 recruits on campus for Papa throughout the semester.
When there isn’t a recruit to show around the campus, Papa is still busy on Zoom. Papa regularly calls the PSAC via Zoom to hear the latest update on COVID-19 and the outcome of sports.
In addition to Papa, assistant multi, pole, jumps and vault coach Bill Jordan and assistant coach of throws, Megan Shadeck, have stayed busy as well, training 40 distance runners for the upcoming season. Also, Papa FaceTimes with current and incoming athletes to do mental health checks and assures his athletes are doing well academically.
Overall, the cross-country team is optimistic about the future and Papa is ready to take on another season at The Rock when the time comes.