COLUMN: Thank You, JBU Athletics

Everyone has faced an array of obstacles amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve all had to adjust and adapt to the world around us, and (sometimes reluctantly) embrace the new normal that has come along with what has transpired over the last year. Just over 13 months ago, the entire world, it seemed, shut itself down, and we’re only now starting to open back up and return to what even has a slight resemblance of normalcy. Staying afloat through those 13 months was easier for some than it was for others, and, in the world of college sports, the smaller schools were the ones who had it tougher. Because of that, many had some very difficult decisions to make.

John Brown University was one of those schools. While the situation surrounding COVID-19 was seemingly brighter in August and September of 2020 than it was in March and April, it still wasn’t a good situation to be in when looking at the difficult task of playing in the fall amid a raging pandemic. Therefore, JBU made the difficult decision to opt out of playing in the fall semester–one of three schools in the eleven-school Sooner Athletic Conference to do so. Seeing the other schools in the conference playing, or at least attempting to do so, along with the much bigger schools across the country going through their fall seasons felt like being the grounded kid at the playground that’s forced to watch their friends play on the swings. It wasn’t fun to do, but at the same time, I believe that the intentions behind JBU’s decision were good, and it was probably the safe thing for a smaller school like ours to do amid all of the uncertainty going on.

This longer layoff also allowed for anticipation to build for when sports ultimately made their comeback on the JBU campus in 2021. Basketball was the first to return. Despite the fact that both the men’s and women’s basketball teams had what most would probably consider to be “down” seasons (the men struggled to have a consistently healthy roster and finished 8-7, while the women ended their season on a three-game losing streak to go 5-6), it was still good to see college basketball back in Siloam Springs after almost a year away.

Volleyball and soccer followed, and they provided very exciting action. The volleyball team finished 11-4 overall, with the .733 winning percentage being Head Coach Ken Carver’s third-highest season total at JBU. Meanwhile, the men’s soccer team overcame a slow start and got on an exciting run late in the regular season, winning four of their last five regular season matches, as well as their quarterfinal match in the SAC tournament against Wayland Baptist on the road. They finished 6-5-1 in Head Coach Chris Cole’s first season leading the program. The JBU women’s soccer team provided the most dominant play of any team on the campus, rolling through the regular season and conference tournament with an undefeated record, leaving almost every team in their path off of the scoreboard, with their efforts culminating in a trip to Foley, Alabama for the NAIA National Tournament. Meanwhile, the track and field, cross country and tennis teams all made their returns, and numerous athletes had stellar seasons representing John Brown University.

Despite win-loss records and tournament hopes, possibly the biggest positive of the whole semester regarding athletics is that the athletes got to go back out there and play the sports that they love. None of it would have been possible without the hard work of the JBU Athletics department, as well as the Sooner Athletic Conference and the NAIA. All of the coaches, players and staff deserve a lot of credit for their hard work in making this season happen and providing the JBU community with entertaining sporting events that have, hopefully, been able to take our mind off of a lot of the things going on in the world around us. All season, they have had to work through COVID-19 restrictions and safety protocols, and, while those are in place for everyone’s safety, they also serve as reminders that what is going on is not normal. Despite it all, they have all stayed strong, and that is something that I think every member of the JBU community should be appreciative of.