Student-athletes respond to vaccine requirement

Emily Mulderig and Charlotte Guy

In accordance with a DC mayoral mandate, Wilson student-athletes were required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by November 1 to continue participating in sports.

For vaccinated student-athletes, the mandate is inconsequential. But those who are hesitant or against receiving the COVID vaccine must choose between doing so or pausing their high school athletic career. 

Senior Jermanie Coleman was already vaccinated when the mandate was announced, but sympathizes with her peers who are in the difficult situation of choosing between playing their sport and getting a vaccine that may not align with their beliefs.

 “It didn’t really affect me personally. But for my friends and some people that I’ve heard about, it’s kind of sad because [of] people’s personal beliefs, they don’t want to get vaccinated and they can’t play the sport that they love,” she said. Despite this, Coleman still believes it’s in everyone’s best interest to get vaccinated, “because it keeps everyone safe.”’

Likewise, senior Grant Gwadz, a rower on the boy’s crew team, thinks the vaccine requirement is a good idea for the safety of student-athletes when participating in sports. “[Everyone on the crew team has] our masks off a majority of the time that we’re working out, so it would make me feel uncomfortable if there was someone who was unvaccinated around me,” he said.

Like Coleman, lacrosse player and senior Zakai Robinson was already vaccinated prior to the mandate being announced, but still vouched for student-athletes who wish to remain unvaccinated. “I definitely do think [the mandate] is unfair.” 

One senior who wished to remain anonymous recently quit playing on the football team and will not be playing on the lacrosse team this year because he does not want to get vaccinated.

“This is our last year and some people’s future depends on playing this last year and for them not to be able to play because of the shot is kind of OC,” he said.

“Not getting the vaccine shouldn’t stop [seniors] from playing,” Robinson said, expressing his understanding for fellow seniors, who, like the anonymous student, are choosing not to participate in sports because of the mandate. 

Students can request an exemption if they have a medical or religious reason that prohibits them from getting vaccinated. 

Junior Kymia Bridgett is one such student planning to request an exemption due to a medical condition so that she can run in the upcoming indoor track season. “If I don’t get excused for my medical reason, then I’ll just be running outside of school,” she said. 

Bridgett believes that students who wish to remain unvaccinated but can’t be exempted due to medical or religious reasons should still be entitled to do so without sacrificing participation in their sport. “If they’re against a vaccine, that means their future will rely on just a shot,” she said.

Athletic Director Mitch Gore said the information he has received from DCPS on how the exemption process will work is limited, and that the system is still developing. 

Parents of student-athletes must submit proof of vaccination to him and Assistant Athletic Director Nadira Ricks, who document each student’s vaccination status and eligibility in a DCPS database. If requesting an exemption, parents can fill out paperwork provided by the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE) to be turned in to Gore or Ricks.  

Gore has been in touch with several families of student-athletes who do not want to be vaccinated. As of now, all he can do is point them towards the paperwork for requesting exemptions. 

Gore noted that he is uneasy pressuring athletes and families who may have objections or hesitancy to getting the vaccine, especially since there is no student body-wide vaccine requirement. “Are we following some sort of data trend that is showing the student-athletes are having higher COVID positive rates than the general student population?” Gore said. “And if we are, then [the District hasn’t] put that data out there.”

David Thompson is the coach of Wilson’s softball team. He said he passed on information regarding the mandate to his players as part of their clearance process, although it won’t concern them until softball season begins in the spring. 

On the other hand, basketball coach David Johnson is gearing up for basketball to begin in the winter sports season and is concerned about some of his players being unvaccinated and potentially unable to play. “It’s definitely something that I’m thinking about,” Johnson said, adding that, “it seems like either you get vaccinated or you don’t play, so it’s something that we’re all kind of worried about.”