By Dorothy J. Gentry
Morehouse – the famed, historically Black college in Atlanta – recently announced that it is canceling its fall sports, including its 2020 football season, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Morehouse also will not compete in cross country, its other fall sport, this year.
When he first heard the news, 19-year-old sophomore Mykal Hogue was in disbelief.
“At the beginning, I was very frustrated when I found out that they had cancelled the fall sports because running is a really important part of my life and it really affects everything I do,” said Hogue who runs both track and cross country and is on scholarship at Morehouse. “So when I found out I wouldn’t be able to compete, it was kind of like I got blindsided.”
Hogue, a computer science major from Georgia, took time to think through and sees it both as an unfortunate result of the pandemic and opportunity to rise higher in the sport he loves.
“Now, my outlook is, ‘okay, I have more time to prepare. I have more time to become the athlete I need to be.’ So I’m looking at it way more optimistic than I did before,” he said.
Morehouse president David A. Thomas revealed the decision to cancel fall sports in an open letter posted to the school’s website. He called the decision “difficult but one that was made with the health and well-being of our students and community in mind.”
He also said the school would continue to honor athletic scholarships. Here is the letter in its entirety:
Dear Morehouse Community,
I write to inform you that due to the COVID-19 virus, Morehouse College will not participate in intercollegiate athletic competition sponsored by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) this upcoming Fall. This will affect our cross country and football sponsored athletic teams. I want all of our scholar-athletes, parents, and alumni to know that the College will honor all athletic scholarship awards.
Like all of the decisions we’ve made related to COVID-19, this was a difficult one but was made with the health and well-being of our students and community in mind. It follows my intention to maintain a safe campus in hopes that our students will be able to return in August. Our Maroon Tiger teams travel to other NCAA institutions and cannot compete without breaking from social distancing guidelines still maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sporting events also invite individuals to our campus who will not be subject to the testing and monitoring that we plan to implement for our students, faculty, and staff.
I know this news will be most disappointing to our scholar-athletes, especially our seniors. I can only ask for your understanding and respect for the fact that the College is prioritizing your health and safety ahead of all else.
We are committed to the principle that our athletes are first and foremost students. Each one was admitted to Morehouse with the expectation that he has the intellectual ability and commitment to finish his degree studies here. We will support each scholar-athlete to realize that central goal that brought him to Morehouse. Our dedicated academic support for our athletes and maintenance of NCAA and SIAC compliance standards will also continue.
This decision does not apply to sports played during the upcoming Winter and Spring athletic seasons. Those decisions will be forthcoming later in the year. If you have questions regarding the implementation of this policy, please contact your head coach or Mr. Ruben Perez, associate athletic director for external operations and strategic communications.
In the last several weeks, we have had to make some hard decisions to cope with the exigencies of COVID-19. I have been grateful for the understanding and support our community has provided the College and me personally. I am extremely optimistic about the College’s future. We will rise out of COVID-19 moment stronger and more focused on delivering our mission. So much of what the country has experienced these last few months makes clear that the world needs Morehouse.
David A. Thomas, Ph.D.
Hogue’s track teammate, Anthony Council, a 20-year-old Communications major from Dallas, said he, too, was disappointed but understands the decision. Both teammates had to return home from school in March when the pandemic hit and did not get to participate in track this spring.
“I’m disappointed because for myself, COVID has already taken away my track season [in the spring] and now cross country [in the fall],” Council said. “However, from my coach I learned all we can do is trust God and trust in His timetable.
“It is disappointing, however, I know that I’m not going to stop training and working out and getting back in shape.”
Institutions of higher education, including PWIs and HBCUs, are having to pivot and make long-term decisions about their athletic programs as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the nation. Many states that opened up full or partially are now having to scale back capacity limits and openings in response to a new surge in positive cases.
This surge has also affected many athletic programs at the collegiate level. According to reports, Morehouse is believed to be the first scholarship football program to cancel its 2020 season. Florida Tech shut down its football program entirely in May due to the pandemic and Clemson announced on June 26th that 14 additional football players tested positive for the Coronavirus over the past week, bringing the total number of cases on the team over the past month to 37 – roughly one-third of their roster.
Additionally, several games featuring HBCUs have been canceled due to the pandemic including the Southern Heritage Classic between Jackson State and Tennessee State.
Morehouse, a Division II school in the NCAA, was scheduled to open their season at home, Sept. 5th, against Edward Waters College.
Hogue said one positive aspect of the pandemic is a new-found respect for family.
“It has given me more family time which I appreciate,” he said. “When you go to college, you can lose sight of what’s truly important and COVID really turned the page and brought it back to me.”
Morehouse has not announced its plans for students to return to campus in August, but both Hogue and Council remain optimistic.
“We don’t know anything yet. They said they will let us know but who knows?” Hogue said. “At this point, it’s just really being prepared for anything.”