by Shaun Fuentes
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a lot of uncertainty all across College Sports in North America and other parts of the world heading into next season which is impacting hundreds of thousands of student athletes including several from Trinidad and Tobago. Over decades, footballers as well as track and field athletes have benefitted from scholarships to attend institutions in the US. Currently, the NCAA Division 1 Council has suspended in-person recruiting through January 1 2021. Both college coaches and potential recruits are adjusting to this unprecedented situation, and more changes will still emerge. And with no Secondary Schools Football League taking place here in 2020 it means hundreds of young footballers are not only missing out on an opportunity to display their skill but are potentially seeing their chances of attending overseas College decrease by the day. Over in Africa the same challenges are being faced. In June Winnie Kosgei, a Kenyan marathon runner, helped to pioneer a new form of virtual race that allows athletes to compete against each other without having to be physically in the same area. This is one example of how professional athletes have adapted their careers to the new world of COVID-19. But inn Kenya and across East Africa, quite a few universities and colleges which offer sports scholarships to needy students with unique sport abilities have been struggling. The situation means that poorer students – with potential and talent – are effectively being marginalised in the current situation. Sport has had to take a back seat, largely due to the fact that it involves contact among players, and the participation of large numbers of spectators and fans. For prospective students looking to sports scholarships to earn an education, the doors now seem firmly closed until further notice. “Not everyone can be blessed enough to come from an abled background,” said Michael Oluoch, “and the funny thing about life is that most of the best talents and abilities usually come from people from poor backgrounds … God never forgot them, and nor should we,” said Oluoch, a basketball coach and scout in Kenya. As a scout, Oluoch goes out to schools and neighbourhoods to look for talent or invites players to showcase their abilities. Under present conditions, this process is no longer possible.
“There are some students I had identified from two high schools and was hoping to bring them in for our scholarship programme, but now I have no choice but to wait till things go back to normal,” he said. There are students including some from T&T such as footballer Kareem Riley who are already on sports scholarships. Some have chosen to defer their studies since schools were finding it a challenge to cater for them with no sports activities taking place. Some schools however are trying to find ways to help them out through various avenues such as well-wishers and a kitty for the needy. Victor Boiyo, dean of students at The African Nazarene University in Kenya said it is difficult for them to take in and cater for new scholarship students even as online learning goes on. “No strategy had been put in place to handle the situation that we are in today, and as an institution, we are working to find ways of helping out those that we can [those already on scholarships].” “They are a unique group of students” that the government should think about as they work on ways of getting learning back on track," he said. Everything from roster selection and scholarship limits to operating budgets — has had to be re-thought and restructured a
t every college and university as a result of the pandemic. The same applies to local secondary schools. Athletes, particularly footballers are best advised to ensure their updated highlights reel is posted on every social media platform possible.
A great deal of recruiting, even in the best of times, is now largely digital. Coaches and players will have to stay in touch with recruiters through email, text messaging and routine conference call. While the games have been on a break, it is certainly no time to rest as athletes must now continue to look after their physical shapes, keep on honing their skills and train in new and innovative ways. Dreams are on hold but they haven't been dashed.