For SUNY New Paltz’s interim athletic director Matt Giufre, his summary of the fall semester boils down to one word.
“Proud,” Giufre said. “I’m extremely proud of our staff in all of the various ways they’ve gone over and above their job tasks to support the college.”
On Nov. 24 at 5 p.m., the campus’ Athletic and Wellness Center (AWC) shut their doors for the final time for the fall 2020 semester.
“It was that symbolic moment of, ‘wow, all things considered, we managed to open the building within the first week of classes and we were able to close the building right before Thanksgiving, which was the plan all along, and we had no interruptions in between,’” Giufre said.
Stepping into a new role this summer to replace the spot formerly occupied by Stuart Robinson, the women’s volleyball coach had a gargantuan task ahead of him and his team: lassoing an athletic department deeply affected by COVID-19 and squeezing the most out of a limited semester.
“I guess the biggest challenge was making sure none of us let our guard down,” Giufre said. “We didn’t look at it and say, ‘Okay, things are going really well, let’s go crazier, let’s try to do more, let’s push the envelope.’”
The effort required to facilitate the opening and operation of the AWC was a massive undertaking. Starting in June, the Athletic Department held multiple meetings over the next two months that discussed potential reopening plans and keeping up-to-date on the latest COVID-related research before reaching a nexus on Aug. 26.
That day was the moment of truth: an Ulster County health department official came to inspect the AWC for any issues that could exacerbate COVID cases for the college.
“Other than having to add a few signs here and there, they gave us the green light to open to students that Friday and that was it,” Giufre said. “When all of that came to fruition and we unlocked those doors, that was an absolute highlight moment.”
Their effort was a success. According to a report from the Athletic Department, 12,719 students checked into the AWC during the fall semester. New programs like esports, water pong tournaments and group exercises made up for the scaling back of “normal” happenings at the center, such as busy weight and cardio rooms.
The best part about all of that? There were zero confirmed COVID exposures or cases resulting from any activity at the AWC. The enforcement of the mask rule and the students’ willingness and responsibility to cooperate with the order kept the semester’s athletic events as safe as possible.
“The students followed through on their end of the bargain, so there’s no reason why all of us can’t do that,” Giufre said.
Meetings regarding plans for the AWC’s Spring 2021 semester will begin shortly as the Athletic Department examines the semester’s user data and meets with focus groups, consisting of the gym’s most frequent users, to determine improvements. According to Giufre, preliminary plans include opening up portions of the AWC that were initially off limits, shifting operating hours or creating new intramural programs.
With all of that progress, what was the biggest lesson SUNY New Paltz’s athletic director learned from the last three months?
“Use the strengths of the people you’re surrounded with and give them the opportunity to do what they’re great at,” Giufre said. “I’ve always tried to coach that way.”