Athletic Center temporarily closes after students fail to follow mask mandate

Thomas M. Kelley, director of athletics and head football coach, decided to temporarily close the Athletic Center Sept. 3 because many students were not wearing masks during workouts.

In an email addressed to the FSU community, he stated his decision does not affect students participating in fall varsity athletics.

The Athletic Center reopened to students Sept. 13.

Although Kelley didn’t know the exact number, he said a “good majority” of students in the weight room were not wearing masks.

“It wasn’t just on one occasion – it was several,” he said.

Kelley said approximately 80% of students in the basketball gym either weren’t wearing masks or wearing them properly at the start of the academic year.

“The fitness center was the same deal – let’s say 80% of them were maskless,” he said. “Maybe even more. I’m probably being a little conservative by saying 80%.”

Although Kelley didn’t know the weight room’s capacity, he said there were enough people there to make it an issue.

He said, “Social distancing wasn’t being adhered to by them.”

Once the Athletic Center re-opens, Kelley said he believes his staff will be able to monitor whether students are wearing their masks and “following protocol.” 

If these guidelines are met, Kelley said he’ll most likely keep the Athletic Center open.

He said he hopes the students who are wearing masks while working out will encourage maskless students to do the same.

Kelley said he’s responsible for the health and safety of not just student athletes, but the general population as well.

He said, “I’m not trying to be a hard guy or anything, but I think they needed to hear a message and might as well do it early. It’s like herding cats – I go into the gym and let’s say there were 25 people in the gym playing basketball, so I went in there and I addressed it.

“I fix it. I leave. I come back and it’s the same thing,” Kelley added. “How many times can you do that before you say, ‘OK, they’re not hearing the message.’”

Kelley said the same applies to the fitness center.

“We have student workers trying to do the best they can,” he said. “You ask a student athlete to do something and they ignore you.”

Kelley added, “How many times can you hit yourself on the toe with a hammer before you say, ‘Ow! It hurts!?’

“If you’re in this building, you better have a mask on because someone’s going to address it,” he said.

Kalie Ryan, a freshman biology major, said she hasn’t been to the Framingham State gym yet, but goes to other gyms off campus.

Even if students are fully vaccinated, Ryan said they should wear a mask going forward.

“They need to have staff strongly enforcing wearing a mask,” Ryan said.

Alec Silva, a junior communication arts major, said he’s frustrated the fitness center was shut down because he was going to start working out again.

He said a staff member, rather than a student, should be monitoring the fitness center.

Students don’t necessarily listen to other students, but if an authority figure were in charge, there would be more adherence to the guidelines, Silva said.

He added guidelines should be posted outside the gym.

“People are going to break the rules eventually,” said Silva. “Shutting the gym isn’t the best way to go through with it.

“We are adults and should act like adults,” he added.

Tim McCarthy, a sophomore hospitality management major, said he’s surprised the staff shut down the fitness center.

“They had to do it because of the COVID-19 mandates, but it is good for student athletes [who still have access to gym] to train before they go to their out-of-town games, so they’re well prepared,” McCarthy said.

Even though McCarthy hasn’t been to the fitness center yet, he said students should be able to use it because it’s an “asset” offered to them.

Alexandra Hebert, a junior psychology major, said she is a member of the dance team.

She said she went to the gym to walk or play basketball between one and three times a week before its closure.

Herbert said there should be a student worker at the gym for a majority of the time it’s open.

Anna LaPolt, a senior psychology major, said the few times she was able to go to the gym, it seemed only “around five” students were wearing masks and the rest were not.

She said it might be helpful if the student workers keep a list of people who are breaking the rules.

Eddy Olu, a senior computer science major, said he went to the gym a few times before its closure.

He said a lot of the students there were wearing masks below their chins.

“It’s like people put in participation effort, but don’t do what they’re supposed to do,” Olu said.

He said it would be hard to enforce rules because students don’t like to be told what to do.

“I can sympathize with the people who don’t wear masks – it’s so hard to work out and wear this

thing at the same time,” Olu added. “If you’re tired of the school’s rules, work out elsewhere.”

Neirmen Eldam, a freshman biology major, said she’s disappointed about the fitness center being shut down, as it was nice to not pay for a membership.

Because she’s a freshman, Eldam said she only used the weight room three or four times before it got closed down.

She said it’s both fair and unfair “to an extent” for athletes to continue to use the room.

“Athletes need to stay in shape, but it shouldn’t be one-sided,” she said.

To prevent another closing, Eldam said staff should ensure everyone has their ID, so they can be identified if they’re not wearing a mask. 

Additionally, she said students should use hand sanitizer before and after they use the equipment.

Fernando Climaco, a freshman pre-engineering major, said he saw a mix of people wearing and not wearing masks while working out.

He said a staff member should check in every hour or two to see whether students are following guidelines.

Kelley said there’s almost always a full-time staff member students can go to if they have questions or need help.

He added he heard from faculty and staff about the lack of students wearing masks.

“They’d walk by and they’d see a group of students in the fitness center and they weren’t wearing masks,” Kelley said. “They were a little concerned about what was going on in this building.

“The best way to send the message was to close down for a week,” he added.

Kelley said he’s the “point guy” and it was his decision – with the support of the administration – to shut down the Athletic Center.

“I didn’t close this willy-nilly just because I felt like it,” Kelley added.

Kelley said he enjoys the Athletic Center being busy and occupied.

He added he doesn’t think enforcing the fitness center’s guidelines is too much responsibility for a student.

If students don’t want to wear a mask, he said they could work out outside, find a basketball court, or go run on the track.

Kelley said varsity athletes are being supervised in the weight room, either by a strength and

conditioning professional or a coach.

“It’s a population that we have structured and we can control,” Kelley said.

He added, “With the general population, we don’t have that flexibility or luxury.”

Kelley said it would be “pretty hard” to structure students’ times in the weight room the same way varsity athletes’ times are structured.

If any of the students who weren’t wearing masks were from the varsity team, he said they’d be asked to leave just like anyone else.

“They’re just a regular student when it comes to this stuff,” he said.

Once the Athletic Center opens back up, Kelley said student workers and his staff are going to supervise it as much as they can.

“If someone doesn’t follow the rules, they’ll be asked to leave,” he said. “We’ll probably check

their names and I don’t know if we’re going to say, ‘OK, you’re gone for a week.’”

Kelley said checking students’ names becomes a “slippery slope” as the building becomes busy at night.

When the fitness center and gym opened up last spring, Kelley said he thought the staff did a “pretty good job” regulating students.

“This spring, our general population wasn’t huge and it was by appointment only, so the traffic in this building wasn’t great,” he said. “When we came back this fall, I think returning students and new students … thought that they could come over here and masks weren’t going to be an issue.”

Once the Athletic Center opens back up, Kelley said student workers and whoever’s supervising the weight room will enforce mask mandates going forward.

“During the day, there’s a lot of us here, and at night, there will be a full-time supervisor here,” he said. “They’ll be making the rounds and making sure that everybody’s following protocol.”

Kelley said the last thing student athletes need is to have an outbreak.

“There’s people that weren’t taking it [COVID-19 protocols] seriously, and the last thing I want is for this place to have an outbreak and close again,” he added.

The last year and a half has been the most “miserable” of his career because he doesn’t like the sight of an empty Athletic Center, he said. He wants to get back to some sense of normalcy.

Kelley said living on campus and participating in campus life is what makes the student experience enjoyable.

“We want it to be as close to normal as possible,” he said. “Once again, wear a mask – it’s that simple.”