Rams face their toughest opponent yet: EEE

FSU Men’s soccer players were impacted by the EEE threat. (Dylan Thayer / THE GATEPOST)

By Sara Senesac

Interim Asst. Sports Editor

The FSU athletic department has rescheduled numerous outdoor practices and games this season as a result of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) reaching a critical level in Framingham – and it has not been an easy process, according to department heads.

The Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) website states Framingham is still listed in the “critical risk category” for EEE as of Oct. 1. 

The website states any city in the critical risk category should “cancel or reschedule outdoor gatherings, organized sporting events, etc. to avoid peak mosquito hours,” which are from dusk to dawn.” 

Carey Eggen, deputy director of athletics and Title IX coordinator, said, “Ultimately, to keep everybody safe, there were some things that took precedence – like games. We tried to get games in first, and then we were able to schedule practices around them. 

“It was a drastic change – to go from having a 7 o’clock game every night, Monday through Friday, and then suddenly having to start at 4, then not being able to have a practice after, and scheduling a 6:00 a.m. practice five times a week,” she added. 

With the hours of dusk until dawn being the most dangerous for mosquito exposure, the options for outdoor practices right now are limited. 

Most teams can only hold 6:00 a.m. practices before classes or 4:00 p.m. practices after classes to ensure athletes aren’t missing school, and coaches can actually run practice. 

Tom Kelley, director of athletics and head football coach, said, “A lot of our part-time coaches have other jobs.” This makes it difficult to have practices in such a limited time frame. 

“It’s been tough, but the coaches have been great,” he added. 

In addition to the rescheduling of games and practices, the department has also been working to share as much information with athletes as it can to encourage them to protect themselves against mosquitos. 

Eggen said, “We sent out reminders that came from the Department of Public Health [that said] wear long sleeves and wear long pants. We also provide bug spray – we can’t force them to use bug spray – but there is a lot available to them. … With all of those precautions, you hope you’ve done enough.” 

Because of these changes, multiple sports have to practice in each time slot, resulting in many teams having to share fields and gym space during their practices. 

“With only one indoor sport going right now, that opens [the gyms] up for other teams to utilize. They’ve had to be creative, which I would say is the one downside. The soccer team would get less out of using the gym than they would the soccer field,” Eggen said. 

Due to the difficulty of lining schedules up with other schools, the department is attempting to do whatever it can to avoid cancelling games. 

“We’re trying very hard not to cancel. We’ve moved games to the visitor’s site to get the games in, which changes how you budget. Now, we are budgeting for a bus and meal money as opposed to student workers and officials,” Eggen said. 

In addition to the impact EEE has had on the athletic schedule, it also affects other members of the University who wish to use the gym. 

Kelley said, “There is a trickle-down effect, and everyone is impacted.” 

He added because of practice, “We have to take away open gym time.”

Many athletes agree the schedule changes have made life increasingly difficult this season. 

Junior Kaitlin Burch, a field hockey player, said, “I get out of class at 4:20 each day, so it is really difficult to run from class straight to practice. We usually would have practice at 6:30 p.m., but that’s just not plausible with EEE, so it is really messing with our schedules.

“All of the games are getting moved up to the middle of the day, and I’ve been missing classes, or needing to go to games late. It’s really stressful,” she added. 

Freshman Brian Sullivan, a men’s soccer player, shared a similar opinion. 

“We haven’t had any 6:00 a.m. practices yet, thankfully, but it definitely hurts the team when we have fewer practices throughout the week. It means we have to be more focused and work hard during the time we have,” he said.

“We try to get some of the guys together at random times and get some touches in on the days when our practices get cancelled,” Sullivan added. 

Senior Brenna Marquis said volleyball has luckily been able to avoid the issue as an indoor sport, but she is concerned about how EEE can impact a team’s cohesion. 

“I think rearranging practice schedules and games has the potential to affect a team’s dynamic, mostly in the sense that more athletes could miss out on practices and games due to classes – or vice versa – which already happens a lot without scheduling conflicts,” she said.

“It’s so important to have everyone there,” Marquis added. 

Junior Jasmine Lees, a women’s soccer player, said, “EEE has been a really big inconvenience this season. I’m not much of a morning person, so the 6:00 a.m. practices have been rough.” 

Her teammate, senior Annalyse Arnold, agreed. 

“I think rescheduling our practices to the early morning is really affecting our ability to do well in class because we are so tired, especially people who have to take classes later in the day.

“It’s also kind of disappointing that we have to give up night games, like the homecoming game, because it’s always fun to play under the lights, and it’s also inconvenient that we have to rearrange our schedules now,” she said. 

Despite the difficulties EEE has caused for Athletics this fall, the department is continuing to reschedule games and practices until the cold weather finally moves in. Both Kelley and Eggen stressed how grateful they were for everyone who has helped during this process.

“Everybody that helped in moving games and making these decisions has done it with a smile,” Eggen said. 

She specifically thanked Ilene Hofrenning, director and nurse practitioner in the Health Center, Dale Hamel, executive vice president, Lorretta Holloway, vice president for enrollment and student development, and Ann McDonald, chief of staff and general counsel.

As the temperature slowly declines in Framingham, Athletics is hoping for a morning frost in order to push out the mosquitoes and ensure the safety of their players moving forward.