McNeese trying to keep virus at bay

Published 9:31 am Tuesday, August 17, 2021

By Jim Gazzolo

Special to the American Press

With COVID-19 numbers on the rise, especially locally, once again athletes have been forced to put up with continued testing and decision making when it comes just to getting on the field.

With Southwest Louisiana in the middle of one of the nation’s hotter spots, McNeese State has had to revert back to spring protocols for some of its athletes.

Those unvaccinated are tested three times a week, while those vaccinated are only tested if they show symptoms.

According to Hunter Martin, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Medicine at McNeese, unvaccinated athletes are tested based on local numbers.

“If you are in a high area of COVID you get tested three times a week,” Martin said. “If you are in a medium area it is twice and in a low area it is once. We are in a high area.”

Martin said roughly half of the McNeese football team is fully vaccinated and others are in the process. He hopes the number is around 60 percent by Sept. 1.

It is hard to judge just where that number is compared to the rest of the country. LSU, for example, reported last week that all but one of its football players has been vaccinated. The Cowboys are schedule to play the Tigers in Week 2 of the season on Sept. 11 in Baton Rouge.

“We would like it to be 100 percent,” Martin said. “That would make things a lot easier on everybody, but we are not forcing anyone to get the shots. It is an individual’s choice.”

Martin said there has not been any peer pressure that he has seen, only what he called “good, healthy conversation” between players.

“They are very interested in what is going on and how it all came about,” Martin said.

To that end, McNeese brought in Dr. Timothy Hammond from Christus Oschner of Southwest Louisiana to speak to the team.

“I have never given a talk about this to an athletic team before so I didn’t know what to expect,” said Hammond. “I was impressed with the questions they asked and the interest they showed. They wanted to know a lot about the virus but also the vaccine and how it was made and what was in it.”

The doctor also wanted them to know that not everything is known about the virus’ long term effects.

“I told them that with their age and the condition they are in they weren’t likely going to die but that there are other risks,” Hammond said. “Also wanted to explain about some of the risks for others they may give it to.

“It really was just trying to pass along as many facts and answer as many questions as I can.”

There were, however, a few political questions but those weren’t really addressed.

“It was just to give our athletes the facts,” said Martin. “It was not to be political in any way. We just wanted to give them the best facts we could so that they could make up their own minds.

“We also wanted to give them time ask questions. The players were really interested. We think it was good for everybody to have the conversation.”

Most conferences have stated that any team which cannot play a football game this fall for COVID reasons must forfeit that contest. The Southland Conference has yet to make an official announcement. When contacted by the American Press Monday, league officials said a revised statement on such a cancelled game would be coming out Wednesday.

Two McNeese players came to fall camp with COVID but Martin said there has been no others on the team showing any symptoms.

“We have been able to avoid any outbreaks so far,” Martin said. “All players have been very cautious and following the protocols we have set up.”

Last winter both, the men’s and women’s basketball teams missed games due to the virus.

“We learned a lot from going through that in the spring,” Martin said. “We had hoped we would not have to do all the testing like then, but we are dealing with it once again.”

As for volleyball, players last year were given the option to wear a mask or not.

As of now that will remain the same even with Governor John Bel Edwards’ mask mandate for inside gatherings.

McNeese officials also said as of now there is no limit to seating for home games.

NOTE: For those wondering, the McNeese football team is still on academic probation but is eligible for postseason play.

The Cowboys were placed on a 3-year probation by the NCAA for lack of academic advancement back in December of 2019. That included a postseason ban, meaning no berth in the FCS playoffs. McNeese hasn’t made the FCS playoffs since 2015 and hasn’t won a postseason game since 2002, when it finished second in the nation, losing the title game.

This year McNeese will at least get a chance to end that streak.