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SAAC hosts COVID-safe competitions for student-athletes

Carleton student-athletes would typically be wrapping up their winter seasons this week; a cumulation of many hours spent competing against athletes from other schools in gyms and pools throughout the Midwest. However, as with the last three athletic seasons, COVID-19 robbed student-athletes of yet another opportunity to compete this winter. While nothing can compare to the thrill of live competition, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) took initiative to fill the void of games and meets on campus this winter by organizing small weekend competitions among lifting pods from various varsity programs. The effort was a huge success, and provided student-athletes with an opportunity to socialize with members of other teams in a COVID-safe environment. 

Student-athletes were placed by their coaches into lifting pods of four to eight athletes at the beginning of the term to restrict the spread of the virus among athletes while using the weight room. Since Carleton athletes can no longer cheer each other on at athletic events, SAAC brainstormed ways to bring members of different teams together in a competitive, fun and safe way. Ultimately, lifting pods were realized as a form of built in infrastructure to organize small teams from different athletic programs around campus.

Between Fourth and Seventh Weeks, SAAC organized four unique competitions: a snow sculpture competition held on Bell Field, a virtual trivia night hosted on Zoom, a Valentine’s-Day-themed scavenger hunt which took place across campus and an ‘epic’ sledding contest on the hill adjacent to Evans Hall. At each competition, lifting pod members had the opportunity to score points based on their performance. Final points were totaled up with the chance to win a free Chipotle meal on the line for each participant of the victorious pod. 

For many student-athletes on campus, the competitions served as a chance to continue some form of competition. 

“It was a great way to still compete in some way and get to know athletes from other sports teams in a COVID-safe manner,” said Adam Nik ’22 of the football team.  Nik and his lifting pod performed extremely well in the competitions, including notching a significant victory in the sledding contest on February 21. 

“We went out there to have fun. We gave it our best effort and walked away with the win,” said Nik. His pod’s victory in the sledding contest was key, as the points were worth triple, possibly putting his team in a position to win free Chipotle. 

That said, organizing inter-pod competition was not without its challenges. All competitions were required to strictly abide by the school’s extensive COVID-19 guidelines, meaning each event had to be held either virtually or outside. After all, Minnesota in the winter is known for its deep freezes and polar vortexes, neither of which are conducive to outdoor events.

“The most challenging part was dealing with the weather,” said Cayten Gardner ’22, a SAAC leader and member of the baseball team. “As I’m sure everybody remembers, there was a serious cold snap earlier this winter which definitely altered some of our activities, but we made due with what we had.”

The cold snap during midterm break forced SAAC to reschedule the sledding contest for a later date and host a virtual trivia night in its place, using Kahoot to quiz student-athletes on over 70 different trivia questions. Thankfully, this winter proved extraordinarily mild for a Minnesota winter overall, with only two weeks of sub-zero temperatures and minimal snow fall, which enabled all other competitions to be held outside. 

Despite the challenges organizers faced, the competitions were a resounding success, boasting participation from 20 of the 27 lifting pods on campus. 

Commenting on the success of the competitions, Natalie Lafferty, a junior on the swim team, said, “My favorite moment was during the snow sculpture competition, walking around and seeing each pod working together to create their masterpiece.” 

The snow sculpture competition was the first contest organized by SAAC, and also garnered the highest participation amongst the pods, with 18 teams competing. The result was the creation of everything from an upside down snowman to a sea serpent to a dolphin. 

In addition to the weather, another challenge SAAC organizers faced was picking winners at each competition. Lafferty commented, “The most challenging aspect [of the competitions] was having to be the judge, because we had some pretty amazing snow sculptures, Valentines and sleds.” 

While there has been some discussion amongst SAAC about the possibility of organizing similar competitions in the spring, all eyes are currently on the administration to see what the final decision is regarding spring sports.

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