NEW YORK — The Fordham women's basketball team has done its best to follow every coronavirus regulation and protocol this season, and it's worked as the Rams have not had one positive test.
Unfortunately, a major uptick of COVID cases on the school's campus has forced the university to pause the entire athletic department for two weeks starting last Sunday.
That's not sitting well with the players.
"It's a really tough spot," junior captain Kaitlyn Downey said in a phone interview Wednesday. "We saw this number on Fordham's COVID dashboard keep jumping. Kids returned to campus, Super Bowl parties. One day it was 80 and then we saw it jump to 115. We knew that wasn't good."
The pause was caused once there were over 100 active coronavirus cases on campus during a two-week time period due to New York state health regulations. While many basketball programs have been put on pause this year because of the virus, few have been suspended without a positive test within the team.
"It's been a really emotional last three days. There have been a lot of tears and a lot of questions," Fordham coach Stephanie Gaitley said.
The Rams have taken over 1,400 COVID tests since they came on campus in the fall and all of them have come back negative.
"It's frustrating as we test three times a week and we've been zero for six months," Downey said. "Staying that negative for that long with 25-plus people in our program is a stellar statistics to ride by. "
Downey and her teammates started a petition to try and convince the school's president to let them play the final three weeks of the regular season on the road. It's already garnered over 3,500 signatures.
"Our petition was never to minimize any other program as we understand the gravity of the situation,′ Downey said. "We know the athletics department is stuck in a difficult situation. We followed everything to a T."
The women's basketball team was having another solid year, sitting in second place in the Atlantic 10, a few games behind Dayton.
As of now, the team's final five games would be wiped out, including their senior game that was scheduled for last Sunday. Assuming the positive coronavirus cases go back down, they would be able to have a few days of practice before the conference tournament in early March.
"We've followed every protocol and understand the overall picture," said Gaitley, who delivered flowers and donuts to her seniors earlier this week to try and lift their spirits. "The time frame is the concern since it's the end of the season. At the beginning we wouldn't be in this situation and having this conversation."
Downey and the other basketball captains met with the school's interim athletic director, Ed Kull, to see if there was anything they could do to salvage the rest of their regular season. The Rams even suggested playing the rest of their games on the road, similar to what Stanford did for two months when their county wouldn't allow any athletic activities because of the virus.
They left the meeting, according to Downey, without any real answers.
"It's unfortunate we have to pause our athletic activities but we have to take this critically important step to prevent the further spread of COVID on campus," Kull said in an online statement on Fordham's website announcing the pause. "We know this is difficult for our student-athletes and will continue to support them with our mental health and academic resources. As I've said throughout the pandemic, we will do everything we can in order to protect the health and well-being of not only the student-athletes but of the entire university community."
Fordham President Joseph M. McShane had an already scheduled town hall with the Rams athletes for later this week. Downey was sure that the pause would be a major topic of conversation at that meeting.
The shutdown couldn't have come at a worse time for Fordham as nearly every team was either practicing or playing right, including the fall and spring sports.
While they wait for any kind of resolution, the team has been trying to stay ready.
"We're still trying to figure out the logistics of everything that we're allowed to do,' Downey said. "The rules say we're allowed to exercise, trying to get into gyms outside Fordham to be able to continue to practice as a team. without the coaches We have a special chance at winning this tournament and finish what we started."
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