Effects of athletic department staff furloughs felt by student athletes

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Women’s basketball practices at Rush Gym at Occidental College. Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. Bobby Yu/The Occidental

Since the SCIAC’s July 24 announcement cancelling the fall sports season due to COVID-19, Occidental’s athletics department has faced departmental changes in staffing. According to an Aug. 24 email to athletes from Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Medicine Joe Gonzalez, three of Occidental’s four athletic trainers were furloughed beginning Sept. 1, with his own furlough beginning Nov. 23.

“There are currently some furloughs within the athletic department and there will be additional furloughs later in the semester, including coaches, however there are currently no head coaches furloughed,” Athletic Director Shanda Ness said via email. “When furloughs do occur there will be athletics staff to handle and respond to essential functions in the department.”

As the only athletic trainer not currently on furlough, Gonzalez said he would continue to work with athletes and provide remote support.

“California law mandates that employees do not work at all during the time of their furlough; thus, your ATs [athletic trainers] will not be available during their respective dates listed above,” Gonzalez said via email. “I want you all to know that I will continue to provide remote AT services, including review of medical clearances, for all student-athletes through Nov 22.”

When soccer player Anaise Nugent (sophomore) heard the athletic training staff would be furloughed, she decided to work with the school to create a fund to support them.

“Our trainers are our favorite people. They’re the only ones that allow us to play really. Without them we would be hurt,” Nugent said. “I mean I spent many days and long hours in the training room, and they’re just there to help us athletes and we’re so appreciative of them.”

Nugent said she hoped alumni and the larger Occidental community would contribute to furloughed staff financially. With the help of the Institutional Advancement office as well as the athletics department, she has set out to create an emergency fund for athletic staff. According to Nugent, they still do not know what shape the fundraiser will take.

“We decided that it’s not the school’s fault, it’s not the athletics department’s fault, it’s the financial situation of the country right now and that’s why alumni, people who can give, need to right now,” Nugent said.

Nugent said she is currently drafting an email to alumni expressing a need for support.

In his email, Gonzalez said some furloughs were necessary given the college’s struggles during the pandemic.

“As you all are aware, the College is facing unprecedented challenges during this pandemic, and President Elam has notified all employees of the College that furloughs to some staff will be necessary,” Gonzalez said via email.

According to Taylor Gorretta* (senior), the women’s volleyball team has been finding ways to emotionally support their trainer, Lauren Wagner, while she is furloughed.

“We all signed a card to send to Lauren, because we were told that ‘snail mail’ is something that you can do,” Gorretta said. “It’s still not the same, but at least it feels like we can let her know that we’re there for her, and that we appreciate everything she’s done until this point.”

Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) co-President and baseball team captain JP Flores (senior) said without guidance from a trainer, it has been difficult to prepare for a potentially cancelled season.

“We really look up to athletic trainers,” Flores said. “They care for us. They’re like our best friends. We vent to them whenever we’re not playing, they take care of us. So really, it’s like losing your best friend. And on furlough, they’re not allowed to communicate with you. So not only are you losing that but now you feel like you need to be there for them.”

Flores said that losing the opportunity to see his athletic trainer is just another low in an already tough year.

“I was on campus the other day and I ran into one of the trainers because she was picking up her stuff,” Flores said. “We were just standing there six feet apart, masks on just tearing up because it’s like, ‘Man, this sucks.’ I really hope this spring happens because what if the furlough gets extended?”

Chaia Wyatt (senior), who works in the athletics department and is a member of the women’s cross country team, said the office has been fairly empty this semester.

“I go into the office and it’s just really weird going in and it’s completely empty when it’s usually super busy in there,” Wyatt said. “It’s definitely tough. It’s sad that they had to furlough a lot of athletic staff because I know a lot of Oxy students, and our athletes — that’s a really big part of their identity as a student.”

According to Wyatt, the department is still keeping those with larger roles within the department on staff, such as those who deal with finances. She said she too misses Lauren Wagner, who also serves as the women’s cross country team trainer.

“I’ve definitely wanted to reach out to Lauren,” Wyatt said. “She basically knows all of us already, she knows our injuries and stuff and she knows how to help.”

Wyatt said her team was directed to Gonzalez, but it was difficult to connect to him as much because they are unfamiliar with him.

Aidan Seid (senior), a captain on the swim team, said he goes to the athletic trainers whenever he has injuries or medical questions related to sports.

“Unfortunately, because we’re not on campus at all, and not really participating in our sports themselves, I have not been reaching out to the athletic trainers, but I know that they are there as a resource if we need them,” Seid said.

Nugent said since Division III coaches and trainers support student athletes through good times and bad, student athletes have a responsibility to support them now.

“They love us, so we need to help them right now when they’re strained,” Nugent said.

*Taylor Gorretta is The Occidental’s email manager.