In episode 3 of the Academically Speaking podcast, Laura Perillo — Oak Knoll's Marketing Content Strategist — sat down with Athletic Director Dr. Kelly Childs to speak about navigating athletics during a pandemic and how the school is preparing for athletes to return to the playing field safely this fall.
Listen to the Podcast
Laura Perillo: [00:00:00] Hello, everybody! And welcome to episode 3 of Oak Knoll's new podcast, Academically Speaking. It's a pleasure to be here as your host. Our guest today is Oak Knoll School's Athletic Director, Dr. Kelly Childs. Today, we will be talking about how the current COVID-19 pandemic has impacted sports at Oak Knoll. Welcome, Kelly! Thanks for joining us.
Dr. Kelly Childs: [00:00:28] Thank you for having me.
Laura Perillo: [00:00:29] So this past spring sports season was certainly impacted by the pandemic and had to slowly shut down after March break. During this time, what went through your mind as you navigated teams that had already begun to practice? Also, what were the school's priorities for student athletes when it became clear that the season was not going to happen?
Dr. Kelly Childs: [00:00:53] Well, first off, I think we reacted the same as everyone else in our country where we just had never experienced this before. So we, you know, when we were told that we had to shut down and campus was closed and athletics were stopped, we sort of quickly mobilized with interactive, engaging ways to stay connected to our student athletes and our coaches through Zoom meetings, through lunchtime chats, through emails, and just making sure that they knew that we were accessible to them.
We didn't know how long it was going to last. I think we thought when the spring shutdown first happened, that there was a chance we would be able to salvage some portion of that spring sports season. So we were still planning for that. I think for a long time, the state organization, the NJSIAA let us to believe that there might be an opportunity to play closer to June and kind of push our schedule a little bit further.
It didn't obviously work out that way, but we were prepared for that, but we really just kind of kept everyone engaged as much as we could. We encourage them to stay, moving and using the outdoors as a great opportunity to reconnect with themselves and stay fit, and really just kind of maintain as much of a positive attitude as they could, because it was a, a situation where we were all really trying to figure out and a situation that we were all in. But obviously everyone was impacted by the spring sports shutdown. Our seniors didn't have that last time wearing the Oak Knoll jersey that they had expected to and worked really hard to.
But I think we did a great job of making sure that they felt that how much we cared about them, how much we'll continue to care about them and support them in their future endeavors. And we really rallied around one another because that was really all we could do.
Laura Perillo: [00:02:42] Right. And I know during the closure you just talked about how you engaged your athletes. I know specifically that athletic trainer, Melissa Maskery, sent daily workouts to the athletes. Those were pretty well received. What was the goal there?
Dr. Kelly Childs: [00:02:58] Yeah, I think the goal was just to, again, promote healthy being and a healthy life style, even when we're not together.
So, Melissa really just ran with it. She created every day, a nice email with a pump-up message, a good inspirational quote, a real life story about her own struggles, maybe with that workout or just with dealing with the pandemic. Or the unknown. And she did a fantastic job. She engaged with our community via email. They would share photos and comments on their social media platforms. And she just really afforded another opportunity for families and for student-athletes to work out, to take care of their mind, body, and spirit and do so together.
Laura Perillo: [00:03:39] Right. Right. And, also, in May the school held its first-ever virtual race called Run As One. How did this idea come about? What was the goal and how many people participated, and then how much money was raised?
Dr. Kelly Childs: [00:03:53] Right. So, impressively, we had over 400 participants, all ranging from people's infants that were in a stroller participating all the way up to, you know, older individuals. And it was fantastic to see over 400 participated in this inaugural virtual race. We raised over $19,000 for the Emergency Fund, which has obviously been in part of our planning and getting prepared to welcome our students back. Kudos to everyone that was able to participate. And we definitely had support from people that weren't actually able to run or walk, but they still gave, and that just shows the tremendous strength of this community.
When we were thinking about ways to keep our families and student-athletes engaged, we thought about trying to do something virtually that would promote well-being wellness, but also promote the sense of Oak Knoll and what makes this community so special. And so this virtual run/walk, a lot of the races at that time in the spring were canceled. A lot of our families run 5Ks and half marathons, and so we saw that as an opportunity to bring people together. We typically have our homecoming in the spring. That's oftentimes a well-attended event where, once again, you see the special place that Oak Knoll is. So we thought that this was another way to provide an opportunity for people to support one another and to feel connected to Oak Knoll while doing so in their driveway, in their town park or wherever they could comfortably workout.
Laura Perillo: [00:05:18] What other types of community service activities did student-athletes participate in during the spring, and why does Oak Knoll put such an emphasis on service with its athletes and why is that so important?
Dr. Kelly Childs: [00:05:30] Specific to this past spring, our lacrosse team for the second year, sponsored a student who unfortunately was paralyzed after an accident and he was a lacrosse player, a high school lacrosse player, rather. And they partnered with the World Lacrosse Foundation for the second year. They raised both financially they raised money for him and for this organization, as well as just raised attention to the organization and support of the organization that was through daily emails, through video communication. And they did a tremendous job of keeping that going, even when their season was cut short.
They were a standout sport this past spring, and really used their platform as student-athletes, even when they weren't able to compete or be together to stay connected to an organization and to an individual who really needed the support. And I think that they did a great job of representing why sports matter because they bring these people together in difficult times. And that was a great example of such.
Why service matters, well obviously faith, wisdom and service are major pillars here at Oak Knoll. You see them written in our gym. We really believe in faith, wisdom and service. And we believe in making sure that that's part of our philosophy in athletics. In the spring of 2019, we, as an athletic staff, administrative staff, there were members of alumni, there were members of our faculty, of our coaching staff and current students. And we revamped, I would say, the athletic philosophy and we really looked at our school's mission and where the athletic mission fits. And we came up with this Royal Way, and really what the Royal Way is, is it speaks to supporting the school's commitment of service to others. And we don't make it mandatory for all of our sports to do community service because they do so much of it on campus through other organizations, as well as outside through their churches. But we don't have to make it mandatory because almost every single one of our varsity athletic programs comes up with a service initiative that the whole program rallies behind.
So sometimes that's raising awareness or funds for a cancer as particular cancer, or it's making a Bridges run or contributing to something that's being done on campus already that they just work really closely with other students who aren't necessarily their teammates. So services at definitely at the forefront of a lot of what we do.
We talk a lot about using your platform as a student-athlete, to help causes that are bigger than you. And I think that's something that we're going to continue to focus on. Obviously in today's day and age, I think there's a great opportunity for us to continue to learn life lessons through sports. And we really focus on that here.
Laura Perillo: [00:08:07] That's wonderful. So here we go. As student-athletes return to fall sports this week, can you talk a little bit about what it has been like planning for the new school year and really what kind of restrictions are now in place to keep these student-athletes safe and what will sports look like now?
Dr. Kelly Childs: [00:08:24] Well, the planning process has been a wild experience, for a lack of a better way of describing it. One week we would have a game plan and then we would receive some information from the state that would make us need to rethink our game plan. And so it's been a lot of that all summer. It's been a lot of communication within our Union County athletic directors. It's been within the state, the NJSIAA; it's been within our campus community in terms of, are we an open campus? Are we a closed campus? Can we have spectators? Can we allow for team gatherings? So it's been a lot of conversation, a lot of trying to figure out best practices that either colleges have put into play or others campuses and communities are doing.
And so we created this Policies and Procedures guideline that our families received via email and it's lengthy. I mean, it is very detailed. There are obviously a lot of restrictions that we have to enforce both from, yeah, CDC recommended guidelines all the way down to what we're doing here on our campus. But the highlight really is we're going to provide a safe opportunity for student-athletes to do just that - to be together, to socialize, to play the sport that they love - in as much of a safe environment as we can create. And that's been our focus all along. Obviously we could have said no sports and just completely shut it down and focus where school first. And we want to maintain that, that we are here for the academics first, but if we can also care for the whole child, which is so important to us and provide an opportunity for kids to run around together in a safe environment for a few hours after school, then we're going to do that.
And I think our plan is as good as it can be. Obviously, things like masks and restrictions on the number of students that we can place on a bus to take over to our fields in Chatham, our campus is going to be closed for all spectators, but we're going to be able to play sports over at Chatham. That includes our middle school program. So home games will all be there so that fans can socially distance. That space is a lot larger than our turf field here on campus. We have plenty of procedures in place to try to maintain what we care the most about, which is that student-athlete experience. And, you know, we're going to do everything in our power to make sure that we still offer photo days. We still have senior day celebrations. We're creating a Senior Week this year so that we can celebrate all of our fall senior athletes in a festive controlled way that we can make sure that we're doing so safely. You know, and with this pandemic, as everyone can in attest to, we have to be willing to be flexible and willing to change. And some of what we've done for a really long time might not be possible this fall, but we're going to do everything in our power to again, give our students an opportunity to be together, to play a sport, to get a good workout at the end of the day, and to hopefully be happier because of that.
Laura Perillo: [00:11:15] Well, that's great. Is there anything else you want to add about what the students will be doing here on campus? I know there was a LEAD captain's academy. It was virtual. It was a 10-week program for all team captains. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Dr. Kelly Childs: [00:11:31] Absolutely. Yes. So our plan all along had been to engage our captains more so this summer than ever before, because we named our captains for the first time, at the conclusion of each season, with the opportunity to then work with them on some leadership training, before they stepped into the role as the actual captain for their sports team. The plan had been for it to be sort of a hybrid in person and virtual program. Obviously, we were not able to get together over the summer and do anything in person, but we did have a really, really effective 10-week virtual program. Our captains all participated in it. It was a lot of self-reflection, a lot of best practices. They listened to podcasts. They watched YouTube videos. They heard from professional athletes, from sports psychologists, from CEOs. We really are just trying to open their eyes to the fact that leadership looks really different. For every person for every team, for every position. And that's good. And we're not trying to create an army of individuals who are all the same.
We really want to value individual thinking based on these positive tenants of being role models and making good decisions and understanding that you might make a mistake and that's OK. And you need to learn to correct it. And to ultimately look at yourself and understand yourself better before you can expect people to follow you or expect people to understand why you're doing something a certain way.
So, we did four interactive online sessions and the feedback we received is they really enjoyed it. They didn't think it was too much or too little. It was the right amount of student engagement over the summer. We're going to continue that. So we're going to start it up next week with an in-person safely distanced a meeting. And then we're going to sort of lay down the plan for the rest of the academic year to keep the girls accountable to the fact that they are leaders on this campus, both athletically, but also as seniors and many people are going to be watching them. They obviously are going to be challenged with things that no other classes ever faced before. And I think that there's great opportunity for them to really step up and to create new memories here at Oak Knoll and new traditions. And I think we've got a great group of girls that are excited to do so.
Laura Perillo: [00:13:43] That's wonderful. So thank you so much. That is all we have for you today. Thank you Kelly for your time and expertise. For more information about Oak Knoll School of the Holy child, please visit our website at oakknoll.org.