Life looks different and so does the student body: Athletes on leave

By Jenny Langerman

A fall semester without sports is a consequence of Covid-19 felt by many. Even as sports have slowly returned on the professional level, many collegiate and recreational programs are still on pause, including the NESCAC. Since sports are an integral part of the Middlebury experience for student-athletes, some have made the decision to not return to campus this fall.

The decision to take the semester off was not an easy one for most. For women’s soccer captain Izzy Hartnett ’21, reaching a decision meant contemplating what she wanted out of her final year at Middlebury. 

“When I spent time contemplating what has formed my Middlebury experience, my mind went immediately to the women’s soccer team,” Hartnett said. “Some of my favorite and happiest moments at Middlebury have been in our locker room, on Dragone and Proc dinners with the team.”

Hartnett says that although soccer is a large part of her life, playing as a member of the Middlebury women’s soccer team has been particularly invaluable. “As the July 6 deadline started to approach, I was not ready to give up the MWS I have known and loved for the past three years,” she said. 

The decision-making process was more complex for football captain and QB1 Will Jernigan ’21, who is also taking the semester off from Middlebury. In thinking about the coming semester from an academic standpoint, Jernigan realized his desire to live a normal last year at Middlebury. Thus, a leave of absence seemed logical. Approaching it as an athlete only reaffirmed this sentiment. 

Will Jernigan ’21 is one of many athletes who chose not to return to campus this year. Jernigan is pictured above in the October 12, 2019 game against Colby. (Benjy Renton)

“It was almost an easier decision for me now that the season has been canceled,” Jernigan said. “[Football] has been a passion of mine since growing up, and it would be my final opportunity to suit up, play and practice and study with the team … Now I’ll have another chance at it.”

Though the cancellation of sports competition is an unfortunate reality, many of these student-athletes have found silver linings in deferring. Jernigan is excited about the professional opportunities provided by this free time, which he cites as another reason to unenroll this fall. 

“It [will] give me a little more work experience on my resume this fall,” Jernigan said. “Not only that, but I’ll have another summer before returning to school, so it gives me another summer internship cycle that I’m excited to take advantage of.” 

While home this fall, Jernigan plans to continue his summer internship working for a technology startup in the propane industry, as well as beginning additional work with a capital investment firm.

Other athletes feel similarly. “I feel so grateful that I am able to take time off from school and from soccer to pursue an internship at the ACLU of Vermont as an Advocacy Intern while I cheer my team on from afar,” Hartnett said. Similarly, men’s soccer goalkeeper Marco Kaper ’21 reports that he is spending his semester off “coaching youth soccer [and] taking a nutrition course, along with continuing [his] internship from the summer.” 

In some way or another, Middlebury’s student-athletes on leave are diving into a new normal: a semester without sports.