When Chris Parsons accepted Thomas College’s Director of Athletics position in July, he knew he faced a tall task in helping to lead the department. He had already spent the prior five months serving in an interim capacity, which included the difficult, early days of the pandemic. Chris, however, did not hesitate to take on the challenge.
“I took this position because I have a passion and special connection with Thomas Athletics,” says Chris. “I work with a great group of talented and passionate people who are going to help us continue to grow and reach our tremendous potential.” Chris also maintained his job as Head Coach of the Men’s Soccer program, which he has led since 2011.
Even before he accepted the Athletic Director position, Chris and the athletics staff were hard at work preparing for the school year and, specifically, the fall sports season. “We spent months preparing our action plan that guided how our student-athletes would be able to practice and, eventually, compete this fall,” he says. “We had to be extremely thorough and always prioritized student-athlete and staff safety.”
The athletics plan centered around a three-phase structure, based on NCAA guidelines. Moving from one phase to the next hinged on teams and the campus remaining free of any positive COVID-19 tests, which were conducted for in-season athletes weekly.
In the first phase, spanning the season’s first two weeks, teams began practicing in small pods while remaining socially distant and wearing masks. “The first phase really focused on the individual, technical training, and strength and conditioning,” says Chris. “We worked on individual skills which, in a normal year, you would not have time to do.”
The second phase allowed teams to practice as full groups for the first time. Parsons notes that this was a big boost to student-athletes’ spirits. “It was good for them to be together as a team, even though they still needed to be socially distant,” Parsons said. “Some of the first-year students had very little interaction with their teammates, so it was important to get everyone together to start building those relationships, both on and off the field.”
Finally, in the third phase, teams built up to full-contact practices. They could have full-contact drills and scrimmages, and the possibility for outside competition opened. Thomas found a partner in the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI), which had also navigated three phases successfully without any positive COVID-19 tests. Games were scheduled with UMPI over three October weekends with Golf, Men’s and Women’s Cross Country, and Men’s and Women’s Soccer all competing. “These student-athletes worked hard, both on and off the field, to follow protocols and stay safe – and it was important to reward them.”
The Terriers were very competitive in the contests with UMPI. Jarrod Hooper ’22 won both Cross Country races, while Evan Parsons ’21 earned medalist honors in each of the Golf matches. Women’s Soccer picked up a pair of wins, including a 1-0 overtime thriller in the opener. Men’s Soccer won the first game at home against the Owls and were well on their way to a victory at UMPI before the game had to be called due to weather.
Unfortunately, UMPI does not sponsor other fall sports that Thomas does, leaving Field Hockey and Women’s Tennis without outside competition. “Although Field Hockey and Women’s Tennis did not play any games this fall, we offered them other experiences and hope that competition opportunities arise in the spring.”
Outside of competitions with UMPI, some fall Terrier teams enjoyed memorable events this season. The Men’s and Women’s Soccer and Field Hockey teams all hosted intra-squad scrimmages that were open to the Thomas community, giving them more game-like experiences. To end the season, those same teams hosted a Ghosts, Ghouls, and Goblins Halloween Tournament, in which teams dressed up and competed against each other in small games.
Despite the limits, Parsons is happy with the season. “First and foremost, we got through the fall with all of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff members safe and healthy,” he points out. “We provided great opportunities for student-athletes to be together, compete, and have fun.”
Although the remainder of the athletics season is still unknown, Parsons is confident that Thomas will continue to provide the best possible experience for student-athletes. “No matter what the future holds, we will always put health and safety first for our student-athletes and our community. By doing that, we will be in a position to give them every opportunity to be together and compete.”
*This story was originally published in the Fall 2020 Thomas Magazine & Annual Report.