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With restrictions easing, Athletics makes long-awaited return for Fall 2021 semester

July 19, 2021

The long wait for the Community College of Rhode Island’s student athletes finally ends this fall as collegiate sports returns for the first time in more than a year since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Team meetings and practices resume August 1, followed by live game action beginning later in the month. CCRI’s Fall 2021 season includes men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, and women’s volleyball.

The season officially opens August 27 with the men’s soccer team traveling to UMass-Dartmouth, which will be CCRI’s first game in any sport since March 12, 2020 – a span of 533 days – when the men’s basketball team closed out its season in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division III Tournament with a 109-93 loss to Columbus State.

“After a year and more with our student athletes unable to compete, I am eagerly looking forward to seeing them on the fields and courts this fall,” said CCRI Dean of Students Michael Cunningham. “Our student athletes work and train hard and I am excited that they will have the opportunity to display their skills again this year. I hope our students, faculty, and staff show up in strength at our home events this fall to welcome the Knights back to play and lend them our full support.”

Interim Director of Athletics Kevin Salisbury, said relaunching sports in the fall, even with coaches and student athletes committed to their roles, will resemble “starting a program from scratch.” Win-loss records and results won’t matter as much as reestablishing the protocols and policies the college adhered to before the start of the pandemic.

“This will very much be a work in progress,” Salisbury said, “but it’s a welcome return to normalcy for both the college and our student athletes.”

On the same day as CCRI’s last game played, the NJCAA – the governing body for all two-year colleges – announced it was canceling its DI and DII men’s and women’s basketball tournaments; the DIII tournament, which CCRI competed in, was already underway, so those schools were allowed to finish until a champion was crowned. Four days later, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) followed suit by canceling its DI men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in addition to all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships.

With the 2020-21 academic year rapidly approaching, the NJCAA announced in June of 2020 a plan of action for its fall and winter sports seasons, allowing individual member institutions to decide whether or not to resume athletics based on their ability to follow safety protocols.

Salisbury explored the idea of CCRI returning to the field for the Fall 2020 semester, but the biggest challenge, he said, was coming up with a plan that satisfied state and NJCAA COVID guidelines. Even if a plan had been approved, Salisbury said, it would have been difficult to find opponents to compete against since a large number of CCRI’s regional rivals decided to forego athletics for the entire 2020-21 academic year.

CCRI found itself in the same boat this past year as many others: Waiting on the proverbial sideline until the pandemic allowed for a more realistic return to action.

Some programs were hit harder than others; softball, baseball, and outdoor track and field each lost two full seasons due to the pandemic. Student athletes in those sports who were freshmen during the 2019-20 academic year never got the opportunity to suit up.

When the time came to submit a new plan to both CCRI administration and the R.I. Department of Health, Salisbury made sure all bases were covered in terms of player, staff, and fan safety.

The recently-established vaccine mandate for all students attending in-person classes this fall should also help expedite the process and ensure student-athlete safety once play resumes.

“I look forward to coaching again, and I look forward to bringing runners to meets again,” said Gregg Cornell, who has been the college’s cross country and track and field coach since 1989 and the indoor track coach since 2002. “The biggest challenge will be getting athletes back in person after 15 months of remote instruction, but we’re thankful to be back in action and we’re hoping for the best.”

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