Donna Johnson knew the news would be crushing.
The Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, where she is the athletic director, would not be flying to the Texas School for the Deaf and Blind for their track meet because it was cancelled.
It was spring 2020 and COVID was just beginning to spread uncontrollably, closing businesses, increasing hospitalizations and scratching athletic events.
“You could just see their faces and bodies,” said Johnson, recalling the moment she told the athletes. “They were devastated.”
FSDB cancelled athletics for the rest spring season and the following fall. Boys basketball and other winter sports teams began their seasons but also had to cancel.
After just three games, most players and coaches on the boys basketball team tested positive for COVID, including head coach Dakota Kalis. Their season was over.
“It was like a 180-degree turn,” Kalis said.
For more than a year, FSDB did not have any athletics, impacting student morale, performance and behavior. Kalis and his team, elated for the return of sports, plan to make the most of their season after losing a year to COVID.
During their cancelled season, the boys basketball team had practices to make up for the lost games and quench the competitive thirst of the athletes. Johnson also set up conditioning drills that were open to all students.
But it wasn’t enough for most players, especially the seniors who were playing for scholarships. Some decided not to attend the practices. Morale was low and most of the team was unmotivated.
Low morality from the lack of sports and overall impact of COVID spilled into classrooms. No athletics or social activities and remote learning made students feel isolated.
“You could see this despondency from the whole student body,” Angela Saunders, principal of the Deaf department. Close to 50% of the students play sports at FSDB.
Since the return of athletics this year, Saunders said she sees more excitement on campus. Behavior and academic performance have also improved.
The athletes have also changed.
“To come back this year and really be able to open up athletics, it’s changed their attitudes,” Johnson said. “You can see that they’ve grown through this. They have more passion, care and want to work harder.”
The boys basketball team (2-6) has struggled to find a rhythm this season and has yet to find an identity. Kalis said they are “back to square one," having to rebuild their foundation after the lost year. Their lack of experience has hurt them, he said.
Nevertheless, he and Marcus Guillou said they are excited for the return of the season and would cherish it. Guillou lost a chance to make strides his junior year.
“We have to take our moment seriously and make sure we use this moment,” Guillou said.
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a tuition-free state public school and outreach center available to eligible pre-K and K-12 students who are deaf/hard of hearing, blind/visually impaired or deafblind. At FSDB, students learn how to do more, be more, and achieve more, fulfilling our vision of preparing them for a lifetime of success. FSDB gratefully accepts private donations to support vital programs that directly benefit students and are not paid by state general revenue funds. To inquire about enrollment eligibility or schedule a campus tour, contact Parent Services at 904-827-2212 voice or 904-201-4527 videophone. For more information about FSDB, visit www.fsdbk12.org.