Despite several once-in-a-lifetime challenges brought on by the current COVID-19 pandemic, the state of athletics at Pfeiffer University remains strong -- and is getting stronger.
The University’s many student-athletes, including those on teams whose seasons were cancelled this past fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, got an opportunity to compete against other schools in abbreviated schedules during the current spring semester. All but one of Pfeiffer’s 21 sports programs saw action. Cheerleading was unable to compete this year due to COVID restrictions on indoor sports.
In addition, significant improvements were made to baseball, softball and tennis facilities that are benefitting players and spectators. Technology upgrades were added at all of Pfeiffer’s athletics facilities to improve the reliability and quality of the University’s live streaming of home games.
“We did a good job, especially given the fact that we all went into it blindly,” said Danielle Lafferty ’15 MBA, Pfeiffer’s Director of Athletics. “I mean, nobody had managed an athletics program through a pandemic before, and everyone from coaches to staff to players were tested. But, at the end of the day, I think our student-athletes were just grateful this spring, to be out on the field or out on the court or in the pool, for the first time in over a year.”
The athletes and their fans have also enjoyed three significant facilities upgrades, each completed during the current spring semester:
Thanks to a gift from Fran (’80 Hon.) and Warren (’66) Knapp, new windscreens were installed for each of six courts and for a fence line in the Knapp Tennis Center. This was a sorely needed improvement: Storms had taken down some of the old windscreens, and the rest were ripping and getting old, Lafferty said.
- The Charles A. Cannon Charitable Trusts assisted with the installation of netting around Jack Ingram Field, the home of the Pfeiffer softball team. Among other things, the netting will protect lacrosse/soccer players and spectators from foul balls (N.E. Lefko Field adjoins the Ingram field’s first-base side).
Thanks to supporters of the Pfeiffer baseball program, Joe Ferebee Field, the home of Pfeiffer’s baseball team, has new backstop netting. The netting’s material, which is favored by professional teams, is stronger, thinner and easier to see through than what came before it.
The Knapps, both members of Pfeiffer’s 2018 Sports Hall of Fame class and winners of the 2013 Governor’s Award for Lifetime Volunteerism, have been longtime supporters of the University and its athletics programs. Fran also shaped and coached Pfeiffer’s first field hockey teams for three seasons in the 1970s. Her husband Warren was a standout tennis player and coach at Pfeiffer. The Knapp Tennis Center and Knapp Health and Fitness Center are named in honor of the entire Knapp family.
The Knapps’ latest contribution to Pfeiffer tennis came about when Warren asked Lafferty about ways in which he and Fran might help the program. When she mentioned the windscreens, the Knapps addressed that issue as quickly as they could.
“We did that for the kids,” Fran said. “We want the students to have the best tennis experience that they can have at Pfeiffer, and that includes new windscreens. Windscreens affect the game big-time; you have to have functional ones.”
Warren also stressed that the new windscreens help block out the lighting from a nearby soccer/lacrosse field, which tennis players had found distracting. “Athletes can now concentrate and play their best tennis,” he said.
As for the netting that divides Ingram and Lefko fields, it is 50 feet high and held up by five poles. It begins at the end of the third-base dugout, stretches around the home backstop, and continues along the entire first-base side of the field. It removes a “liability safety hazard” for spectators and players on Lefko field, and it “really helps our scheduling and gives the softball program flexibility to practice how they want to during competitions that are going on at Lefko,” Lafferty said.
As sports in the current spring semester wind down, Lafferty and her staffers seem astonished that they’ve pulled off the herculean feat of managing 20 active sports programs during a single semester.
The ensuing challenges were particularly great on Lefko Field: At one point, five programs -- men’s soccer, women’s soccer, men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, and a soccer team from Gray Stone Day School -- were vying for practice and game time.
“The field got torn up,” Lafferty said. “We had more rain than we wanted to have in the beginning of the spring. We really chewed up our field, but our maintenance team, led by Joe Bahr, did a great job with recovery.”
It would fall to Melanie Wilson, the Assistant Athletic Director for Compliance/SWA, to keep a workable schedule for practice and games. And K.C. Culler, the Assistant Athletic Director for Communications, put in many extra hours of stats work. He praised the medical staff -- led by Darci Dickison, the Assistant Athletic Director/Director of Sports Medicine -- for doing a phenomenal job of “keeping our athletes healthy with the normal bumps and bruises of competition and the added COVID and other virus-related testing.”
Lafferty is cautiously optimistic that something like normalcy will return during the next fall semester, having been encouraged about the positive effects of ramped-up vaccinations.
“We don’t have enough information yet to say that will be the case for sure,” she said. “However, we’re planning game schedules for the fall as they used to be. I know that there will still probably be some pandemic-related restrictions. But I think that for the most part, we’ve had time to adapt to the circumstances and create some opportunities and options for the athletes to return to somewhat-normalcy.”
Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform.