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Erin Klima catches a frisbee outside of Tate Student Center during the Student Involvement Fair on Aug. 29, 2019. Holding practices has been a challenge for the women's Ultimate Frisbee team during COVID-19. (Photo/Jason Born)

Anatasia Reece, founder and president of the Diva Dawgs step team, was looking forward to her third season leading the group in competition while building its reputation of community engagement and sportsmanship at the University of Georgia. The club’s growth, however, has been stunted by safety measures implemented to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Across UGA club sports, student club officers have had to manage the administrative demands of running a club while prioritizing member safety by following COVID-19 guidelines. Club officers are adapting to new schedules and activities while trying to  maintain the sense of community that attracts students to these organizations. 

Clubs that could social distance and relied on UGA facilities had their practice seasons delayed as the UGA club sports program figured out how and when to safely schedule space..

Colton Kryski, a former men’s water polo club and club swimming officer, said club water sports that use the pools in the Ramsey Student Center could not meet until several weeks after the beginning of the fall semester. 

The UGA club sports program arranged practices around higher priority competition teams, like UGA’s NCAA Division I Swimming and Diving team, while spacing out practices to meet COVID-19 regulations. This often meant club practice time was either reduced or moved to a less convenient time.

Within club sports, the impact of these changes affected involvement differently based on the size of the group. 

Dema Krumenaker, club swimming’s public relations chair, said the group has seen a smaller percentage of members attend practices this semester, but with about 120 members, turnout is still significantly higher than other smaller clubs. 

For one of these smaller groups, women’s Ultimate Frisbee, lower attendance this season means holding practices can be a challenge. 

“There's some practices where, including the captains, there's maybe eight people, whereas normally we had at least 20 to 30 girls out there,” said Cailee Anderson, president of women’s Ultimate Frisbee.

Reece has responded to the difficulties of reserving on-campus practice space by turning to off-campus resources. Working with the team’s coach, Torrance Wilcher, members now meet in his private studio in Athens, but this change has made it harder for members without means of transportation to attend practices.

With regulations on mask-wearing and social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, groups have had to implement major changes during their practices. For some, the push to adapt has had a silver lining. 

For contact sports, where scrimmaging and games are not socially distant, a turn toward individual conditioning may strengthen the team. 

“We're actually teaching them how to throw a disc,” Anderson said. “That's probably one of the most important parts for people that have never played before, and the fact that we're now focusing on it, I think, could really help us in the long run.”

To bring energy back to clubs dealing with challenges, groups found virtual opportunities to maintain momentum. The Diva Dawgs Step Team participated in a virtual competition through Instagram.

“I think just from that competition we have received more support from UGA students than I have received since I started the club, which I love because they gave us more recognition and more people were able to find out about us and see what we do,” Reece said. 

Because COVID-19 delayed the swim season, club swimming was informed about the updated practice times after classes began, so many members and officers were unable to work around their class schedules to attend practice.

Club swimming accommodates conflicts between class and practice time by using the Commit Swimming app. The app allows club officers to share club workouts with members who can then integrate club training into their own schedule.

Moving into the spring semester, some club sports officers don’t foresee much change to their current operations. Club sports officers changed their programs to prioritize safety while maintaining the integrity of their clubs during the fall semester. 

No matter the logistical challenges, they will continue to pursue connection and excellence. 

“I do think that the idea of Ultimate in general, like their core value, is spirit. And I don't think that's changed at all for us,” Anderson said. “I think that we still care about each other and we still try our best to do what is right.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Anatasia Reece. The Red & Black regrets this error, and it has since been fixed.