Recorder intern Justin Maccagnan recounts how COVID-19 has impacted UMass athletics

Recorder Intern
Published: 11/23/2020 6:14:09 PM
Modified: 11/23/2020 6:13:50 PM

The sun was out, but the wind was harsh on March 13 when I found out UMass athletics were going to be canceled for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19.

The moment was surreal. COVID was out in Europe. This was not a problem for the U.S. It definitely can not impact sports here.

I was wrong. Very wrong.

They say you do not realize something is great until it is gone, and I learned the full effect of that sentiment on that brisk day in March. I absorbed everything that happened that day, from spilling coffee on my pants to nearly running over my roommate Klark as I pulled into the driveway at my house. He had some choice words about my driving.

It’s a day I will never forget.

Having recently been hired as the general manager of WMUA, the student radio station of UMass, and working as a sports director for the station, it could not have come at a worse time. I was transitioning into a different role and now I had a massive bomb blowing up my normal schedule as we all adjusted with the health risks of COVID.

Ironically, I was working in-studio on a sports show when we received the breaking news that UMass men’s lacrosse, men’s hockey, women’s lacrosse, baseball and softball were to be canceled due to COVID.

Things only got worse as we began to do the pregame show for the Atlantic-10 tournament game between UMass and VCU around 1 p.m., when we were forced to say that the game had been canceled and was not going to be played at a future date.

It was a painful day. Sports envelope my life. I work as Sam the Minuteman for the athletics department and had just come back from a trip to Dayton, Ohio for the A-10 women’s basketball tournament. Even if I wasn’t in the broadcast booth, I was still doing something that involved sports.

I think WMUA’s sports director Colin Casey said it best. “I can’t believe it. No sports to watch for multiple months possibly. What am I going to do?”

I will always remember that quote because he said it immediately after the cancellation of the A-10 men’s tournament and almost said it over a live radio mic (the actual quote included some profanity), which would have given him a $50,000 fine from the FCC. Watching him fall out of his chair as he tried to push the mic away from his mouth and hitting his head on the station’s stereo system is still one of the most hilarious moments of my career at UMass.

Having no Minutemen or Minutewomen sports to cover felt like getting stabbed, only this knife slowly went deeper into your body after every new week went by. The rest of the spring was silent, no sports to be seen anywhere on campus except for a few bold students that wanted to play pick-up basketball.

Thanks to the creativity of newly hired Sports Directors’ Cameron Sibert and Colin Casey, WMUA was able to produce re-runs of big UMass games as well as increase their presence on social media with various videos and radio calls from past seasons.

Since WMUA is a radio station, we were able to pre-record shows from home audio systems and produce content, but the bad news would continue to come in.

The university would soon delay all fall sports to the spring in late July, throwing another brick at our comeback to the radio booth. Even though it was disappointing, there was still a light at the end of the tunnel.

As pressure mounted from other schools, UMass, which had decided to cancel its football season in the summer, reversed course on that initial statement and announced the school would be having games in the fall, most of them on the road. The first game was to be played on Oct. 17 at Georgia Southern.

For the radio station, this was great news. But how would we pull it off? The football team would most certainly not let us travel with them, so the sports department and I devised a plan to remotely broadcast the games from the studio.

I have dealt with many odd situations while covering sports teams and this was by far the most bizarre. First, we needed confirmation that we could have someone in the studio. The university responded about two weeks after the initial email was sent, saying they were concerned that we could be spreading the virus. They wanted COVID tests to prove the broadcasters, Jesse Kolodkin and Cameron Sibert, were healthy.

Luckily, both of them were already getting tested twice a week, so they had records to prove this. Even with those tests, however, the university was still quite leery of the health risks and said that the broadcast was probably not going to happen. I couldn’t believe it. We were so close to finally getting a broadcast back on the air.

But light finally shined through. With 24 hours until kickoff, our station advisor, Carson Cornelius Burke, got a call that Cameron and Jesse had been approved to call the game in-studio. A breath of relief fell over all of us. We were going to call a live sporting event, albeit remotely, for the first time in eight months.

The game was a success. No one got sick and the call was great, even though the Minutemen were thumped on live television, 41-0. We even got to call the Marshall game earlier this month.

Slowly, things are getting back to normal at WMUA. The station is currently moving into the new student union even with the current pandemic going on.

Sports are creeping back into our lives, as the UMass hockey team opened its 2020-21 season last weekend and the UMass basketball programs will hopefully soon follow. Things are looking up. It looks like the station will be able to call all the home games at Mullins Center for both basketball and hockey in the winter and spring.

The hope is that as WMUA charters these unseen waters, the station will be able produce content for the local town of Amherst. Students and locals need some excitement in these dark times and sports are the best way to obtain this.

With more sporting events being scheduled, it looks like the year may not be lost, and along with my fellow seniors, we may get to call some UMass history before we graduate in May.

Justin Maccagnan is a Recorder intern and senior at the University of Massachusetts.

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