By Derek Mason
This is the second season for RTI Journey, a series written by head coach Derek Mason.
It was Tuesday, March 17, around 3 p.m. and I just arrived home. I had stopped by the McGugin Center to check and see if there had been any work that was left unfinished or some job undone. The campus, as well as the facility, was virtually empty besides essential facility and support staff. The empty football spaces are unfamiliar to me this time of year. Early morning lifts, meetings, practices and organizational staff meetings typically fill the days as we prepare for our opponents in the fall.
But there is a bigger opponent we face today.
What started as just a health scare in other countries has quickly found its way on to domestic soil where, collectively, the entire country is faced with a common adversary whose offensive playbook is starting to unfold before our eyes.
Let me back up to Wednesday, March 9.
Around 11 a.m., a detailed conversation about the situation unfolding across the country with COVID-19 prompted us to make a decision about how Vanderbilt football would proceed. After gathering some developing information and facts from our athletic administration, I held a meeting with the team at 3:30 p.m. The intention of the meeting was to inform them that we would be suspending our spring football activities immediately and would look to the guidance and protocols of Vanderbilt University to see how we would handle any additional concerns.
Later that evening, I attended the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament to cheer on our Commodores. The crowd was small and getting smaller by the minute. Announcements were being made advising fans to act with caution, along with content on the videoboard that said that fans were not going to be allowed to attend any further games.
In fact, little did we know, those games on Wednesday would be the last of the SEC Tournament, and among the final sporting events of the entire season.
The very next day, the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament was canceled, while other conferences and professional sports followed suit. In essence, for our student-athletes, coaches, support staff, campus faculty and administrators, life the way we once knew at Vanderbilt had come to an abrupt halt.
Jumping ahead to Thursday, March 19. We adapt and adjust. College life is finding its new normal. Classrooms, dorms and student centers now sit empty as a robust residential college has now moved to online learning to help contain the spread of the virus. Administrative meetings, staff meetings and individuals and team correspondence are now done via Zoom, Teamworks, and simple phone calls to make sure people adhere to social distancing recommendations.
The challenges of today have been many. Addressing the safety and welfare of all parties has been the priority of the institution. Vanderbilt football, specifically, has had to address the needs and concerns of our diverse student-athlete population. Concerns I’ve seen among this Vanderbilt football family include: unintended exposure of elderly parents or grandparents at home, family members with a compromised immune system, socio-economic environments, travel, WiFi access, academic support, health, safety, and welfare are all factors which had to be taken into account when determining the greater good for each individual student-athlete. This has been the painstaking undertaking of college campuses across the country.
I woke up on Friday, March 20, and watched the news. As more confirmed cases were reported, new information was becoming available by the hour and even the minute as to how we can help ourselves and our community. Hygiene, sanitation, social distancing, self-quarantine, hydration, exercise, kindness and gratitude are all part of the COVID-19 defensive plan.
None of us truly understand the depth of what’s to come; these are truly uncharted waters for our society. However, we do know that we’re in the midst of a new normal. Using the information at hand, let’s look for opportunities to be proactive and start playing some offense ourselves. Take a spirit walk, FaceTime a friend, call a family member, record a Tik-Tok, grocery shop for a neighbor or just simply pray.
We are capable of doing ordinary things extraordinarily well when we work together. Vanderbilt football, Vanderbilt Athletics, the Vanderbilt student body, Commodore Nation, the state of Tennessee, the United States of America, the world: Stand up.
As I continually remind my team;
Everything that we do matters.
Attitude affects outcome.
Be the solution by effectively addressing the problem.
Do the things that take no talent.
We are #LIMITLESS and the #RTI journey continues.