Family is a word that is often used, but sometimes has it’s meaning lost. When COVID-19 hit, it’s meaning became clearer. Family and friends often intersect, but the one constant between the two is love.
Imagine a scenario where you are shut away from seeing those you love and care for or doing the thing you love. For nearly the entire world, COVID-19 made this a reality and it doesn’t need to be imagined.
On one hand, the COVID-19 layoff when all students were sent home was used as a way to reset and enjoy family’s presence. In his feature story, “Far from home,” Cinque Sweeting described the time as a reset. He spent as much time as he could with his family. He wasn’t the only one to do so.
When you become so close with people, it’s just as easy to miss your “family” at college. For many, including Shawn Lutz, it made them miss what they had here. But don’t get it twisted, that time at home was extremely important.
“It put things into perspective, it made me take a little backseat to what’s important, because people were losing loved ones due to COVID-19,” Lutz said. “It really made me appreciate being a dad.”
The ability to be with immediate family meant the world to Lutz. The father of three boys, he’ll take all the time with them that he can get.
“Just to see them more and being able to be home cooking a little more meals, it just made me value how important it is being a dad and what your purpose really is,” Lutz said.
But that theme of family stuck with him. It stuck with nearly every Rock sports program. The teams would constantly meet on zoom and talk on the phone. For Lutz, it was almost daily. He missed the sense of what he had helped build here. But when exactly he’d be able to get back to it was unknown at the time.
COVID-19 caused a lot of things to be uncertain. Look at the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA). They had to finish their seasons in bubbles, away from not only their home cities, but their families as well.
College didn’t have that ability. March Madness for both men’s and women’s basketball was canceled. It was a time that was hectic, even though there was nothing going on.
The fear of not being able to play in front of families spread. Even at The Rock, there were discussions that if spring sports were to be resumed it would be in front of no one. Of course, that didn’t happen, and sports didn’t resume. That time that was almost spent away from family turned into time that was spent almost solely with family.
In the fall of 2020, the trend of playing in front of no one continued. From college to the NFL, there was no one playing in front of fans. At the time it just wasn’t plausible.
Meanwhile, The Rock football players were also missing that family atmosphere. Lutz wasn’t the only one who missed it. Players like Henry Litwin, Austin Wayt and Jermaine Wynn Jr. missed the culture that was created here. They started having internal discussions about returning after their season was canceled.
“I was so energized when we got back to do things that we used to, but some guys decided to not play football anymore,” Lutz said. “It’s kind of funny because Henry was asking Austin and Jermaine if they were coming, and if one didn’t then maybe none of them did, but they wanted to be together one last time.”
It was a theme across all SRU sports. For as many players who didn’t return, just as many did. One of the key factors was being able to play and have their family watch. In the fall there were no hiccups, but this winter saw one.
Spectators weren’t allowed at a basketball double header in late January, and it had an effect on the players, because after coming so far and making the hard choice to come back, they weren’t able to have family or friends in the stands.
The decision was overturned a week later, but you can’t underestimate how important it is to anyone involved to be able to have family and friends in attendance.
“Some of these guys, it’s their last year and it’s a part of sports to have your family watch you play,” Lutz said. “You don’t get this time back, and it is a privilege, not a right to play, but that’s what puts it all together, to have family with you no matter what.”
A privilege, not a right. That was never clearer than in those basketball games. It was also obvious the impact that having loved ones in the crowd makes.
But no matter what, at Slippery Rock the goal is to come and make new family. Lutz sums up exactly what that means.
“We consider family to be anybody that’s important to someone and that truly cares for their best interest,” Lutz said. “We talk about it all the time, loving each other and there is nothing wrong with that.”