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THE CLAW: With Athletes' Hearts in Mind, WilmU Navigates Pandemic

THE CLAW: With Athletes' Hearts in Mind, WilmU Navigates Pandemic

The Claw is a student organized Athletic Newsletter, advised by adjunct professor Alex Yoh.

By Hunter Privette
The Claw | Special Report

The year 2020 was one of the most challenging in history. Adaptation, flexibility, and patience became necessary coping mechanisms across industry and daily life alike. Dr. Stephanie Whitby, athletic director at Wilmington University, has unique challenges, including getting sports back safely to the student-athletes that love them, in addition to guiding all those affected with understanding and confidence during this interim period.

"I don't think I ever could have imagined that we would be in the midst of a pandemic that has affected every part of your lives," said Whitby. "To think that we would be nine months into this and to have things not be normal feels strange."

Despite the uncertainty, the WilmU athletic administration staff is working even harder than usual.

It's easy to think that since sports are on hold that the department is on standby, and that would be understandable. But complacency is far from the reality.

Dr. Whitby and her team remain committed to their core pledge: to serve student-athletes. With the suspensions of full sports seasons comes the suspensions of dreams for many. Years of culminative work to train, practice, and develop skills have been met this year, for some – especially upperclassmen – with disappointment and sadness. The sentiment and emotion involved here is not lost on Dr. Whitby. Communication and engagement, she says, is key to dealing with the difficult reality.

"We have asked everyone—coaches and staff – to think about how they can engage and connect with students in a way that is different than before," she said, pointing to virtual solutions like Zoom and social media. "We have to try and think what would we be doing if we were face-to-face, and how can we now do that virtually."

Wilmington Athletics is poised for a strong return to play when conditions permit.  "I fully believe the school will come back at full strength, when the time is right," Whitby said. "I have never worked with a more passionate, hardworking, dedicated, focused group of coaches and administration. This country has never been through something like this in our lifetime. I don't know that any school has a blueprint and said, 'This is what we should be doing.' Everyone is just trying to do their best with what they have, taking it day by day."

The University is looking out for everyone's safety, Whitby added.  "With that being said, they are two decisions. Our administration is not looking at [sports and academics] necessarily as the same decision and we have taken nothing off the docket."

Until more of what's ahead is clear, Dr. Whitby and her staff have a message for all Wildcat student athletes: "I want them to know how much our hearts truly go out to them and how frustrating it is that we can't just make it all better. If we could, we would. I want them to know that every day, we are thinking of ways to make this tremendously challenging situation better. It weighs heavily on all of us. We are strong as a university and we will get through this together."