The pandemic for many has been a nightmare, but, in a roundabout way, it has also generated a new sense of value; treasure what is available, knowing how fragile it truly is. That newfound sense is not lost on student-athletes.
Four members of The Woodstock Academy senior class had no idea what was in store for them back in March when everything shut down.
 “I remember, I was like, ‘Oh sick, we get a two-week break, this is awesome,’ said senior soccer player Lucy McDermott.
At first, it was fun, agreed senior volleyball player Sierra Bedard. She spent time at home, doing activities, like building puzzles, that she hadn’t had time for before the pandemic. It was great — for a little while.
“I realized I was getting sick of being at home. I wanted to see my friends and be in school,” Bedard said. That would not happen for another nine months and even then, on a limited basis.
Jacob Hernandez welcomed the lengthy break but for different reasons.
He had torn both his labrums during the 2019 football season, had just undergone surgery in the late winter of 2020, had his arm in a sling and found it much easier to deal with the pain at home. Especially when the baseball season was cancelled.
“There was a chance that I was going to be able to come back for the end of the baseball season,” Hernandez said. “When it was cancelled, it was better, because I didn’t have the incentive to come back and took the four full months to recover.”
It meant for most, a long time on the sidelines.
McDermott didn’t play soccer in the summer because she doesn’t play club, some of which took place. Instead, she worked out with teammates Brynn Kusnarowis and Lennon Favreau.  It was an outlet.
A chance to see friends.
Normally, the Centaurs volleyball team will work in the weight room in the summer months.
That didn’t happen and neither did much in the way of summer volleyball.
Bedard didn’t get back on the floor until September.
Ethan Aspiras, a cross-country and track performer, had no troubles working out.  
Running alone on the roads and in the woods of northeastern Connecticut was encouraged by most health experts as a safe way to exercise.
It’s also, well, lonely.
“I loved running with my friends, that’s what I looked forward to. Running by yourself is just not the same. When you have to run 6 miles in 45 minutes with no one to talk to, it’s pretty boring. I missed not being able to run with other people,” Aspiras said.
He mixed up his routes just to “keep sane.”
Fortunately for all four athletes, there was an outlet in the fall.
Woodstock Academy maintained remote learning throughout the fall athletic season, and as a result, there were no interruptions due to COVID-19.
But to call it “normal” would be far from accurate. Aspiras was affected more than most.
The 2019 ECC boys’ cross-country champion would not get a chance to defend his title.
The ECC, like most in the state, adopted a regional schedule for all the sports it sponsored (field hockey was the lone exception).
It meant Aspiras had five regional meets, all non-competitive for him, to take part in and, again, he found himself running, for the most part, alone.  
A hoped for ECC championship meet had to be scrapped as was a regional championship race due to flare-ups of the virus.
“It was very difficult to not be able to defend (the ECC title), very disappointing, but I realized that there was nothing anyone could do about it. I just kept on trying to (improve) my own skill level even though I didn’t have any big meets like the ECCs or States, I kept on trying to push as hard as I could so that for any potential future season, I would still be in shape,” Aspiras said.
Hernandez was able to return to the field.
The Centaurs football team participated in a lot of practices and two intrasquad scrimmages.
“I played one game last year, tore both my labrums, and haven’t played since. If that was my last season and those (scrimmages) were my last, I wouldn’t be that (disappointed). I had a lot of fun during those games and we definitely bonded as a team, got to know the coaches, got to know everyone. I know every kid on that team by name. It was a good experience,” Hernandez said.
He’s still hopeful that the plan put forth by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference for an abbreviated football season beginning this February comes to fruition.
McDermott and Bedard did have a semblance of a season.
“It was very different from what we’re used to but it was fun because we played a lot of people that we don’t normally get to play and our starters played positions that we don’t normally get to play. We laughed a lot during the season and we all got to work on things that we wanted to work on,” McDermott said.
The records? Who cares? Wins and losses mattered little.
Games would be scheduled and cancelled at a moment’s notice due to local schools opening and closing.
Bedard, however, had memories in her high school volleyball career to fall back on.
The Centaurs competed in the state championship matches in her first two seasons and went to a state semifinal last year.
“I’m glad that I got to experience those three years. This year was just like a big bonding experience for the team. I got close with all the girls. It was just fun to build relationships with everyone. It was a good learning experience for next year for those who will be returning,” Bedard said.  
Aspiras spoke for all when he said that he and his classmates were thankful to have, at least, had a season. “I haven’t experienced anyone in my family passing or having COVID, but the (academic) aspect of things is definitely more challenging for me,” Bedard said. “I love to be in the classroom, learning from a teacher. It’s harder through a screen. It’s harder to concentrate and I procrastinate a lot. It’s harder to get homework done in your room on your iPad with so many distractions.”
In addition to the learning, there was the lack of social contact.
“I wasn’t able to see my friends every day which is super-hard for me. I learned a lot about myself in my experiences alone. I have learned not to take things for granted because they can be taken away just like that,” McDermott said with a snap of her fingers.
Including school. No big deal?
“I remember the first day we went back (in December) this year and it was, actually, an exciting day of school. I remember some of my teachers were jumping around. Everyone was excited to be in person again. Online learning is nothing like the regular experience,” Aspiras said.
Aspiras lives with an 85-year-old uncle. It means COVID is constantly in the conversation. “I have to agree,” Hernandez chimed in. “It’s very hard to learn online. I went to school and thought, ‘Wow, this is actually fun.’ I remember school being fun.”
Especially the events that one only experiences in high school.
The proms, the dances, the performances, the social gatherings, the award ceremonies, and end-of-year activities like the class trip and even graduation.
“My brother was a senior last year and it was upsetting to him and some of my cousins who didn’t have a graduation or anything that everyone looks forward to. Now, I’m going through that,” McDermott said.
Aspiras added, “My family has told me they feel so bad for me that my senior year is happening like this. It’s just so dull. There is not a lot happening. I hope we get back in the spring and have some normalcy. That would be great.”
 “I remember feeling so bad for one of my senior friends last year, and I remember thinking, ‘I really hope this will not happen to me next year.’ When my brother was a senior, he had the tea party, prom and graduation and I was thinking how excited I would be when I got to do that. Not knowing if I’m going to be able to. It’s just really hard to think about. Everyone looks forward to their senior year and I’m just praying that we get to.” Bedard said.
It was the one thing on everyone’s Christmas wish list this year- a return to pre-pandemic times. There is a new appreciation for what was. Only time will tell.
Marc Allard
Director of Sports Information
The Woodstock Academy

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