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‘I Don’t Think I’ve Seen People More Happy to Practice in My Life’: Harvard Athletics Director Reflects on Return to Campus

Harvard Athletics Director Erin McDermott, pictured at Harvard Stadium.
Harvard Athletics Director Erin McDermott, pictured at Harvard Stadium. By Courtesy of Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Gazette
By Justin Lee and Jennifer L. Powley, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard Athletics Director Erin McDermott said in a Friday interview that the full return to in-person athletics has “meant everything” for student-athletes.

After a four-season time out, Harvard Athletics resurrected last fall with a full competition schedule, including normal travel and training. McDermott said the homecoming has been marked by success and excitement for student-athletes training under Covid-19 restrictions.

“Even though it certainly continues to be challenging in ways, the full return was so palpable in the fall,” McDermott said. “I just was going around and meeting with teams and it was giving me such joy to see their joy.”

McDermott said the halt to sports inspired a renewed appreciation among student-athletes.

“They so much more appreciated the fact that they were together,” McDermott said. “They were with each other, they were with their coaches, they were training, and they were playing, and I don’t think I’ve seen people more happy to practice in my life.”

McDermott attributed the recent success of Harvard’s varsity teams even after a year without much training to this sentiment.

Many of Harvard’s teams have made their mark this year. The Women’s Basketball team is headed to the Ivy League Championship Friday, and the Women’s Ice Hockey team recently won a bid to the NCAA tournament. The Men’s Volleyball team also won the Ivy League Championship after back-to-back victories.

Although the return has been filled with joy, it has not been without hiccups. Student-athletes have reported mixed experiences with Covid-19’s impact on the athletic experience at Harvard, citing postponed competitions and difficulty in team bonding.

Amid the Omicron surge, Harvard rolled back its indoor spectator policy. McDermott called this a necessary step to preserve the overall continuity of competitions.

“That’s a big effect on the teams that were really looking forward to just having the normalcy of people at their games, and we were able to do that in the fall all throughout, so to then scale back in the winter felt like we were taking a step back,” McDermott said. “But it was all in the effort to preserve the ability to keep playing and move forward.”

McDermott said she was grateful that athletics has been able to avoid a complete halt so far, thanks to safety measures in place. Some measures include regular testing, grab-and-go dining during travel for competitions, and a mask mandate in athletic facilities for those not actively training.

“When we started this year, we really had this main priority and goal of maintaining protocols in a way that would preserve, at least as much as we could, the opportunities to compete,” she said. “I’m very grateful that that’s been the case — we haven’t stopped altogether.”

—Staff writer Justin Lee can be reached at justin.lee@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Jennifer L. Powley can be reached at jennifer.powley@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferlPowley.

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On CampusDepartment of AthleticsSports AdministrationCoronavirus