Union athletes petition school, Liberty League to permit spring sports

Union College tennis players Austin (left) and Max Egna.
Union College tennis players Austin (left) and Max Egna.

Twin brothers Max and Austin Egna last took the court for the Union College men’s tennis team in the fall of their junior season — both were in singles action Oct. 5-6, 2019 in a tournament at Hamilton College, and they’d played as a doubles team two weeks earlier in a winning effort against Bard College.

The brothers weren’t in the Dutchmen lineup for the spring season opener last March 8, Union’s last match before sports at the school were shut down as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic began to be felt.

It’s been just short of a year since any Union athletic program has competed, and the Egnas — now in their final semester on campus — still aren’t sure when they will next compete as neither Union nor the Liberty League has fully announced plans for a spring season.

So, over the weekend, the brothers got proactive. They launched an online petition through Change.org, pushing for both Union and the Liberty League to permit spring competition.

“There’s just no time to waste,” Austin Egna said. “We can’t fully rely on the school to make the decision. . . . The stakes were too high to allow the school to potentially take this away from us and not exhaust every possible effort to make it a reality.”

The petition quickly gained momentum. As of Tuesday afternoon, it had more than 650 signatures.

“We wanted to proactively get this out there,” said the twins’ mom, Lauren Egna. “We thought it would be better to persuade them to have a season, rather than try to get them to reverse a decision once it was made.”

The brothers said Monday they’d yet to receive a response from the school about their petition, but Max Egna spoke earlier this semester with Union athletic director Jim McLaughlin and said he got the sense that the athletic department was behind the idea of attempting to play spring sports, though was left unsure as to what the official decision would be.

“I genuinely believe he’s doing everything in his power to get us to play,” Max Egna said. “It’s pretty evident that he wants us to play and he understands how awful that would be for athletes to lose two spring seasons.”

Union recently came off a campus-wide quarantine in response to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the first week of the new semester.

Both McLaughlin and Liberty League commissioner Tracy King expressed their hope to sponsor competition for spring sports this year, but said that data was still being gathered and a decision would likely be made in the next couple weeks.

“We remain committed to our schedule that we agreed to as a league more than a month ago,” McLaughlin said, “as far as coming to a final decision about Liberty League play and championships on or before March 1.”

“There’s been no decision made yet,” King said. “We’re continuing to have conversations and weighing the COVID landscape. We haven’t made a decision yet, I think we’re looking to make some sort of determination around the beginning of March.”

Tuesday morning, the Empire 8 Conference — which includes Russell Sage College — announced in a release that the presidents of its member schools had “unanimously affirmed plans to proceed with spring sports competition,” adding that those plans, “remain contingent upon federal, state and local health guidance and the status of all contests will be subject to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Empire 8’s announcement came on the heels of one that came Monday from the Division II Northeast-10 Conference, which includes The College of Saint Rose, that the league will sponsor regular-season and postseason play in six spring sports — baseball, softball, men’s and women’s lacrosse, and men’s and women’s tennis — along with conference championships in both men’s and women’s outdoor track, and men’s and women’s golf.

Athletic officials at other area Liberty League members also acknowledged the push to play.

RPI athletic director Lee McElroy said Tuesday that his school and the league are committed to exhausting every opportunity to allow spring sports to compete.

“We’re getting all the relevant data together, all the various models, just to having everything prepared that we can make an announcement the first week of March,” McElroy said, “with the hopes that we’ll be competing in late March.”

The Skidmore athletic department referred to the school’s Jan. 28 announcement that the school is “fully committed” to allowing competition this spring. Skidmore allowed winter teams to begin practicing Monday, spring teams are scheduled to begin practice on March 1 and traditional fall teams are scheduled to open practice March 17.

At Union, some sports have begun to practice, and the college is offering some intramural athletic options.

McLaughlin said the push from spring athletes to play was “understandable,” considering a second canceled season would mean the loss of half of their collegiate athletic careers.

“We know what this means to these kids,” McLaughlin said. “We know what all of the extracurricular activities mean to all of our students on campus. From the president on down, we want to do everything we can to provide these opportunities for our students — not just our student-athletes. We need to make sure we can do that safely for the entire campus community, but we want nothing more than for this to happen.”

The Egna brothers said they hoped that Union would be more forthcoming with its athletes and post more general updates as the decision-making process goes on, similar to the regular campus-wide updates about COVID-19.

While Austin Egna specified that the petition was not an effort to “blast the school,” he and his brother believed it was important to plant their flag before the decision was made and push that spring sports can be played safely under guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re hoping this movement can provide some certainty and can potentially make a difference,” he said. “And, if it doesn’t, we’re happy that we tried, because we’re definitely trying to exhaust all possible avenues to make it a reality.”

It’s a sentiment mirrored by his twin brother.

“I think the only failure,” Max Egna said, “is not trying.”

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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