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ADs like U-Mary's Lennon, DSU's Stanton working through 'unprecedented' times
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ADs like U-Mary's Lennon, DSU's Stanton working through 'unprecedented' times

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Another day brought another round of heavy impact to teams around the area due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Without playing a single game in most cases, college and university spring athletic seasons are over.

On Monday, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) announced its spring seasons were canceled. That meant the United Tribes women's basketball team will not be playing in the national tournament.

On Sunday night, the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) officially suspended its spring season. There remains a chance activities such as spring football could be held, but chances are slim.

For athletic directors like Pete Stanton at Dickinson State, and the University of Mary's Dale Lennon, these are uncharted waters.

"It's unprecedented," said Stanton, who also is the head football coach at DSU. "Each day, and to a certain degree each hour, brings something different. We're all just trying to support each other, communicate as much as we can and understand no decision made is going to be an easy one."

Stanton's situation at DSU was particularly precarious Monday as the school was trying to make sure its softball (Tucson) and golf (Mesa) teams got back to Dickinson safely from their spring trips in Arizona. The Blue Hawks' softball team, in fact, played two games Sunday, winning both.

"Our No. 1 priority right now is to get everybody back here," Stanton said. "There are a ton of moving parts. There are a number of things we're going to have to resolve on the academic side for our student-athletes. Making sure we have everything set up for them on the academic side, in whatever form that may be, is our primary concern over the next few days and weeks."

In the current situation, safety trumps sports.

"They do become secondary right now. As coaches and athletes we want to be competing, getting ready for seasons, all those things," Stanton said. "But right now we need to be helping each other, thinking about others and looking out for the most vulnerable." 

In a true sign of the times, Lennon planned to have a staff meeting with his U-Mary coaches on Tuesday -- by teleconference.

"We're trying to make sure to have people's safety in mind. We need to be cautious and conservative," Lennon said. "Whether you're an athlete or a coach or whatever the case may be, we're all in this together. We want to make sure we're doing everything we can to follow the advice of the experts."

For ADs like Lennon and Stanton, the repercussions will last well beyond the spring season. The NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA are allowing spring-sport athletes an extra year of eligibility. However, that too comes with question marks.

"For a freshman or sophomore, yeah that probably looks OK. But for a junior or senior that was about to graduate?" Stanton said. "Certainly it's good for those student-athletes to have that option, but there will be a number of factors for those kids to consider."

U-Mary spring football practice was supposed to begin last Saturday. Like everything else, it is on hold.

"With the CARA (countable athletically related activities) decision from the NSIC, we can't do anything with coordination between coaches and players. That includes player meetings, film sessions, anything of that nature," Lennon said. "Voluntary actions are allowed but even with that as it relates to the number of people gathering in groups and what public health officials are recommending, we don't want to have captain's practices or anything where people are congregating together. 

"Athletes can work on their skills individually but at this time that unfortunately is the extent of it."

In troubled times, sports often has been a place of refuge. Now, there is little place to turn, it seems.

"There is a void, certainly, you can feel it," Lennon said. "Without the presence of sports and athletics, people realize how important athletics are to our lives.

"When you see major league franchises shutting down, the Big Dance getting canceled, these time-honored traditional sporting events, that does show the seriousness of the situation we're in." 

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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