Bellarmine Sports During a Pandemic with Interim Athletic Director Mr. Agelson

Taking on new responsibilities, especially in the middle of a pandemic, is no easy feat, but Mr. Agelson is up to the task. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, adaptability has become a necessity. Teachers have had to adapt their teaching methods to online learning, students have had to adjust to virtual classes, and administration has had to scramble and be willing to change their plans at any moment in order to gradually reopen the school safely. We’ve seen professional sports forced to halt their seasons, and the NBA and NHL have returned in bubble environments designed to limit COVID-19 exposure.

Obviously, this will not happen for Bellarmine high school sports, but many Bellarmine students are counting on being able to play sports again sometime soon. As the new Interim Athletic Director, Mr. Agelson will have to juggle several duties and weigh several factors in attempting to bring back sports to Bellarmine. He must keep in mind safety, highly variable conditions, new rules and regulations, feasibility, and contingency plans in case things do not go the way they’re expected to. Even after determining when sports and practices can resume on campus, he must be adaptable and ready to shift his plans at the drop of a hat. Obviously, it is a big responsibility, and many people are relying on Mr. Agelson to find a safe solution that fits the needs of the students and allows them to play sports again this year. He is hard at work trying to find solutions to these problems and has several ideas and plans in motion to help accomplish Bellarmine’s goals for sports this year.

Some of you may know Mr. Agelson as the AP Psychology teacher at Bell (which he still is!) but he is now the Interim Athletic Director after playing a key role as the Associate Athletic Director in the Athletic Department for the past six years. Mr. Agelson has been passionate about sports for a very long time, dating back to his childhood, where he grew up in an active neighborhood, “always playing kickball, or baseball or football, or basketball, whatever the sport was of the season.” However, Mr. Agelson said that “baseball and football were [his] two primary sports,” as he saw these sports on TV the most. Mr. Agelson hopes to enable others to share his own experiences as a kid, as his favorite part of being part of the Bellarmine Athletic Department is that he “really enjoys giving an opportunity for the student-athletes to do what they love to do.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Agelson realizes this year will be different than any past years, but he and his team are dedicated and hard at work in finding a way to bring students back onto campus, the first step of which involved bringing back “strength and conditioning on [September 21], which is the only thing allowed by the county” as of September 21st. Another factor that allowed strength and conditioning to be back on campus on September 21st was the fact that they knew that they can do strength and conditioning in a safe way but Mr. Agelson notes, “That doesn’t mean there aren’t any risks, it just means we can control the 6 feet, the non-sharing of equipment, the sanitizing of equipment, we know we can control that.” However, one specific problem that the department faces is the sanitization of fields and equipment after usage, something they plan to combat in multiple ways.

As for how sports seasons are predicted to play out this school year, Mr. Agelson notes that the CIF and CCS have realigned the seasons and for Bellarmine, 4 out of the 13 programs which are Football, Water Polo, Cross Country, and Volleyball, will hopefully be able to participate in “Season One” which begins December 14th and should end sometime in early spring, with the rest of the programs participating in “Season 2”. If the COVID-19 trends continue to progress downward consistently through the winter, the proposed season start times are a possibility. In addition to the downward trend, Mr. Agelson recognizes and mentions that “We know that everyone wants to get back, we know that our student-athletes want to get back in competing, but we want to get back to competing only when it is safe to do so,” and stresses that the Athletic Department has the safety of the student-athletes as their top priority.

If everything goes according to plan and Bellarmine’s sports teams can compete once again, the aspect of fan attendance at those sporting events will also be impacted. Mr. Agelson notes that “it’ll be a challenge but if the county says that fans can come in, then we’ll evaluate whether we can do it safely and efficiently and effectively and if we can answer yes to that, then we’ll have the fans in but it all stems from what the county and the state says, we’re not going to do anything that goes against their guidelines.” Mr. Agelson has a rough plan in place to keep the fans safe, which will all depend on what the state and county guidelines are, namely limiting attendance to 10% or 25% capacity when the time comes. But as of right now, his plan would be to “socially distance the pods so to speak, if a mother, father, and sister come in they can sit together but then we would have to make sure they are socially distanced from another household” and stresses that safety is the biggest priority to Bellarmine for not only the student-athletes and the coaches, but also for the fans in the stands.

A big challenge will be the cleaning in between the usage of equipment and fields. A big help to this problem is handheld machines called misters the school has purchased. They’re “going to be valuable to us because they use positive and negative ions to basically sanitize a large area fairly quickly,” cleaning about 5,000 square feet in under an hour, including application and drying. Another dilemma will be the change to practice times and scheduling. In the past, “we used to when one practice ended at 5:30, the other one probably started at 5:35 or 5:30 itself, we would just flip the people practicing,” whereas now there will have to be a buffer period to clean facilities. If enough progress was made where the school could compete again, Mr. Agelson “doesn’t see this year not requiring some kind of sanitization of the indoor facilities, as for the outdoor facilities we just have to do the equipment.”

As new tests keep coming out and there is not one that is nationally accepted, Bellarmine is “in the midst of really following the trends on the testing and so [hasn’t] come up with a policy about testing if there is a return to sports.” At the moment, the only requirement for athletes is the daily health checks, which ask questions to make sure no one has any symptoms or been in contact with someone who could have possibly given them COVID. As for returning to play competitively against other schools, Mr. Agelson states, “that is a whole ball of wax.” It will also depend on what new research comes up about testing and he mentions they will do the best practices possible “if we return with regards to what is feasible and what is recommended by CIF, CCS, and the county.”

Of course, the department must also prepare for an awful but very likely possibility: a Bellarmine student contracts COVID-19 or is exposed to it by someone else. According to Mr. Agelson, the county is building a “layered contingency plan that sets off several dominoes” that shut down various levels of pods that the student has been in contact with. If it happens during the season itself, the “CCS and other schools will have to work together with us to condense the season, if at all possible, and make up several games, if need be.” However, when doing the rescheduling, the needs and safety of the students must be kept in mind. As Mr. Agelson says, for example, “it’s not viable to have four volleyball games in a row, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, to make up for missed games two weeks past, because it’s not only unsafe for the students, but it will interfere with their physical, mental, and academic health as well.” He acknowledges that if teams are forced to shut down, it will be very difficult for leagues to get back on track. To him, the best way to minimize such occurrences is to “keep the numbers as low as possible, and a vaccine will be a big help for the CCS in doing so, providing people take it.” In the end, though, Mr. Agelson emphasized that there are many different possibilities based on very specific situations if a student were to be infected, comparing the situation to “many forks in the road that each lead to a different place.”

While talking about how quickly things can change in these times Mr. Agelson relates it to real life, where it is necessary to learn to adjust and adapt. Obviously, this year’s seasons will be different from years past, and Mr. Agelson takes this in stride, saying that “if we can only do sports at certain times, then we adjust.” He hopes for the best but is prepared for any challenges and obstacles that may come towards the department. He also talks about how there are some things that cannot be controlled, but you can always prepare for opportunities, noting that “our guys are conditioning right now, they’re planning and preparing for a season, a season that may or may not happen, but we’ll be ready if it does.”

Mr. Agelson also made sure to emphasize that “almost everything this year” will be different, ranging from fans to ticket checking to practices to scrimmages to actual games to facilities, with the one exception being that “the number one priority is the student-athlete. That will never change.” Despite the lofty heights that Mr. Agelson hopes the Bellarmine athletics program will reach, he advises us to keep everything in perspective, saying that his short-term goal is to “move the department forward to set up the next permanent AD”. The department faces many challenges, but Mr. Agelson’s main priorities are still “serving our students and fans in the best way [he] can” and “aligning [the] department with the goals and missions of the school.”

Mr. Agelson has a lot to handle this upcoming athletics season, but he is certainly up to the task and ready for whatever may arise. Hopefully, everything proceeds smoothly, and Bellarmine is able to hold athletics seasons safely and efficiently.