The Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys kicked off the season on Sept. 2 against Southeastern Oklahoma State University. That game was the first in 656 days since the cancellation of the 2020 Great American Conference football season due to COVID-19. The players and coaches said they are excited to begin a fresh season with new COVID protocols.
ATU football head coach, Kyle Shipp, explained how the protocols have evolved and been implemented for the players, coaches and staff in preparation of the games.
“We wear masks everywhere as far as meetings, locker rooms… we dress in different waves (rotations), so guys aren’t in the locker room at the same time,” Shipp said..
Shipp also described a few protocols he would take from this experience and apply to the future. He liked that some meetings are virtual, which allows the players to attend from their dorms or homes. This makes it easier for the coaches to set up multiple meetings at once.
With the start of the season delayed for so long, the players are excited to get back to the field. Senior wide receiver Trey Smith of Springdale described the changes that have been made this season and some of the struggles they have faced as a team.
“Where we used to be, everyone could be in the locker room at the same time, now it’s kind of on and off with who can go into the locker room at a certain moment and then who can be on the field…” said Smith. “It’s all a numbers game compared to what it used to be.”
The GAC announced that schools will weekly test a minimum of 25 percent non-vaccinated, in-season athletes and symptomatic athletes will be promptly tested. Smith also stated, “non-vaccinated athletes have to get tested every week before the games.”
COVID has affected some more than others on the team. For the first game, each team member represented number 75, the number belonging to Jesse Boshears, while he is recovering in the hospital from COVID and underlying issues. Boshears is a redshirt freshman offensive lineman from Perryville who’s been in the ICU for two months.
Shipp said it is hard for the team to miss one of their members at the beginning of the season. They choose to honor him in many ways on and off the field. The team “will try to do everything we can to support him. It’s been a really tough deal for our team, having a guy you’d like to be around and can’t be around and you know that he’s fighting for his life,” Shipp said.
With another game right around the corner, the coaches are ready to see what the rest of the season brings for the Wonder Boys. Smith said hopes that everyone continues to support them and said, “Don’t let one game define who we are.”