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Monday, March 08, 2021

COVID-19 changed the game of pickup sports — but not really

The effects of the pandemic are seen to be few and far between

Freshman Campbell Harmon throws a shot during a quick Sunday-night pickup football game.
Freshman Campbell Harmon throws a shot during a quick Sunday-night pickup football game.

The COVID-19 pandemic put an indefinite hold on life in Gainesville, but the bright lights hitting the grass of Flavet, Norman and West Fields tell a different story.

A few days into the spring semester, players lace their cleats and set up nets for pickup games. Spikeball, football, basketball, ultimate Frisbee and soccer games begin during the day and spill over into dusk.

But students share mixed feelings because COVID-19 regulations take a limited presence on the field.

UF’s COVID-19 protocols are similar to last semester’s: Respect social distancing, wear face masks and be smart about exposure in large events. With loose and unenforceable rules, players often take advantage of any leniency.

David Khaskin, an 18-year-old economics freshman, plays ultimate Frisbee and soccer on weeknights. He said he’s frustrated with the laissez-faire attitude on the field. 

“Some of those people do not care whatsoever, and it is concerning to me,” he said.

Khaskin wishes more people would follow the guidelines. Most don’t wear masks while playing, and others aren’t cautious off the field either. Khaskin said he occasionally overhears others talking about attending bars and clubs. 

“It’s just embarrassing for this university,” he said. “That should not be happening.”  

Not all players mind the current approach to COVID-19 protocols, however.

Andrew Graeler, a 19-year-old history freshman, is satisfied with current regulations when he plays football with friends. During the pandemic, Graeler said he came to terms with the idea that there’s a risk as soon as he walks onto the field. 

“If you want to be social distancing and follow the guidelines, you can’t really go out and play the sports with a bunch of people,” he said.

However, Graeler recognizes that there is room for improvement. 

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“I try not to hang out with huge groups of people,” he said. “It could be better. When sports come into play, social distancing and any type of regulation goes out the window.”

Jared Beaufait, a 19-year-old biological engineering freshman, has the same outlook on the situation. Everyone playing pickup games is there because it’s a casual and unregulated environment, he said. He doesn’t mind the guidelines, or lack thereof, because he wants to get out and have fun.

“There’s no real way to regulate it,” Beaufait said. “People like going out all the time.”

Sam Martocci, a 23-year-old biomedical engineering graduate student, has no other option but to oblige by the rules. He plays spikeball as an intramural sport at UF and competitively in Florida Roundnet, an ametuer spikeball league, where he ranks 18th at the expert level. He’s one of many students who travel to meets and attend practices for the sake of competing. 

Players on higher levels of the game opt out of wearing masks when facilities allow it. However, while competing within UF facilities, masks are required during the entirety of gameplay. Spikeball requires six feet of distance between each player anyway so the risk of contact is lower, Martocci said.

While loose regulations pass for pick-up games, harsher COVID-19 guidelines are required for club sports. Last semester, RecSports postponed all gameplay until further notice. 

This semester, screening questionnaires will be required and temperatures will be checked. Masks must be worn during gameplay. Tryouts for intramural sports like beach volleyball and flag football are next week.

“I am very happy that they put those into place so that we can safely play and safely compete,” Marcotti said.

Contact Faith Buckley at fbuckley@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter @_faithbuckley





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Faith Buckley

Faith Buckley is a first-year journalism student at UF and The Alligator's swimming and diving beat writer. She is specializing in sports media to one day hopefully work as an NHL commentator.


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