Tri-C athletics and the pandemic
The Tri-C’s Triceratops will return to competition in the 2022-2023 academic year, after Covid-19 sidelined its athletes, coaches, and teams in March 2020.
As a part of its restructuring plan, the college has hired a new athletic director and is shifting faculty responsibilities. The new athletic director, Anthony Cipollone, is preparing for the 2022-2023 school year by hiring new coaches, recruiting student-athletes, and encouraging the expression of students’ pride.
To support the new restructuring plan, Anthony Franklin and Ann-Marie Strike have been hired as the Manager of Athletics, Wellness, and Community Recreation. Strike serves at the Western Campus while Franklin is at the Metropolitan Campus.
When Tri-C postponed athletics, coaches and athletes faced challenges. Coaches were laid off and student-athletes had to find new ways to stay active.
Student-athletes expected to play in Fall of 2020 and Fall of 2021 were permitted to keep their scholarships, providing they remained eligible based on Tri-C and NJCAA guidelines. The students who chose to transfer to colleges that were offering athletics this year were given their release.
Tri-C student-athletes had chosen different paths when the postponement of sports altered their athletic goals and commitments.
Basketball player Tyrek Battle-Holley graduated from Tri-C in 2020. He chose not to play during the pandemic and worked a full-time job while attending school online. He also had an internship with a shoe company called MUVEZ.
“I knew I was mentally strong and that made me look at bigger aspects in life and not just playing basketball,” said Battle-Holley. “There are other things in the world that I can do to still be around the game of basketball and make money.”
Basketball player James Graham, a graduate of the May 2020 class illustrates a different student experience. Basketball was important to Graham. He was upset when the college restricted access to the gym and even removed rims from outside courts.
“For me it was torture, I enjoy many things outside of basketball but not for long I always gravitate towards playing in some form or fashion,” said Graham. “…for the time I couldn’t play I was in a state of borderline depression, there was nothing else interesting besides playing basketball.”
Graham went on to say, “We have to keep in mind that at Tri-C, basketball is all some of our teammates have.”
Franklin, a former volunteer for the athlete academic program, helped to ensure graduation and grade retention of athletes. He worked closely with basketball players.
Athletes had tutors supported by donors that assisted them three days a week from 4-5:30 p.m. After sports were postponed during the pandemic, tutoring stopped.
“It was very difficult,” said Franklin. “[There was] no tutoring face to face and I had to go virtual with them [athletes].” Franklin said his phone rang “all day and all night” sometimes at 10 p.m.
“There was frustration, deadlines,” said Franklin. “The fact that basketball players with not the strongest educational background were able to graduate is impressive.”
Other athletes faced struggles as they attempted to find a different school to play their sport.
Emma De Brouwer is a student from the Netherlands that was recruited for Tri-C’s softball team. She decided to take classes online for the 2020-2021 school year after sports were postponed.
She transferred to Kansas City Community College after Tri-C announced sports would not return for the 2021-2022 school year.
“So, it was really hard on me when they canceled sports in 2020 especially mentally but even harder in 2021,” said De Brouwer. “…no one knew why they canceled sports again because COVID was getting better, and people were vaccinated.”
Tri-C has postponed sports as a precaution for student safety. Other schools such as Lakeland Community College and Lorain Community College resumed their sports for the 2021-2022 season.
“…I had multiple colleges who were interested in me,” said De Brouwer. “The school I’m at right now was interested in me the year I committed to Tri-C, so I was really happy that they still wanted me on their team.”
Former baseball coach Evan Agona lost his position because of the pandemic.
During Agona’s tenure at Tri-C, 25 players were honored as All-Conference Selections, 8 as All-Region Selections, and 6 earned All-American honors.
Considering his passion for coaching, Agona was disappointed there wasn’t a stronger push to bring athletics back for the 2021-2022 season.
“A lot of people were left hanging for a long time,” said Agona. “June 2020 we were anticipating over 40 players that had to find a new place to go.”
Agona said he was fortunate to have his own side business running baseball camps. After being laid off in June of 2020, Agona said losing his job “made it stressful for a few months” to support his family.
Algona’s wife is a teacher and volleyball coach. They have two children.
Despite having his side business running baseball camps, losing his coaching job affected his personal life.
“This time last year, money was running out,” said Agona. “Another 1-2 months and I don’t know what I would have done.”
Agona was fortunate to find a job through the company Prospects Select. The company hired him to run tournaments and showcases across the country. He also runs a collegiate league in Palm Beaches and a summer collegiate league in South Florida.
When asked about returning to Tri-C, Agona said, “Not currently considering getting back into coaching…doesn’t make sense for me personally.”
The Return of Tri-C Athletics
The athletic program will be returning with all the college’s former sports: Basketball; women’s track and field, cross country, volleyball, softball; and men’s- soccer, and baseball.
“The current plan is to hire 8 head coaches and 14 assistant coaches,” said Cipollone.
Cipollone is open to re-hiring former coaches but is ultimately searching for candidates that are passionate about coaching. Cipollone hopes to inspire student pride through coaches and athletes. He also plans to launch a social media page for the athletics program.
“We want students to be involved, wear Triceratops gear proudly,” said Cipollone. “The plan is to be a national presence.”
Cipollone is taking his time to hire eligible coaches to help recruit student-athletes and achieve his vision of national recognition.
Tri-C is preparing for the return of athletics by prepping its recreational centers for student use.
Athletic Director Anthony Cipollone has been visiting the fitness centers on all campuses to ensure readiness and cleanliness.
“We want everyone to be safe,” said Cipollone. “If we can’t open them safely then we’d rather wait.”
The recreational centers will have restrictions in place to protect students. The exact protocols have not been confirmed, but Cipollone mentions potential temperature checks, limited sign-ups, and 15 min cleaning periods between one-hour sessions.
It is not confirmed when the fitness centers will reopen, but Cipollone said, “They will open as soon as possible.”
Pandemic’s Effect on Tri-C Athletics
While the postponement of athletics has caused coaches and athletes to seek new schools and employment, Cipollone is hopeful for the future of athletics.
Postponing sports has allowed the time Tri-C needed to restructure the athletics program, explained Cipollone.
“We have the reputation, good coaches, and have had athletes move onto four-year institutions… and pro sports,” said Franklin.
Cipollone is determined to instill student engagement in sports.
“One of my jobs is to get that excitement back,” said Cipollone.
Makaela Bogerdy West Campus |Date: November 15, 2021