#Since2020: A Look Back On How The Recreation Center Has Evolved Throughout The Pandemic

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Published March 1, 2022
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The Montclarion
Certain cardio machines in the recreation center were covered with plastic to encourage social distancing. Photo courtesy of Romayne Eaker-Kelly

During the first week in March, The Montclarion will be publishing content related to the two-year commemoration of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the effect it has had on Montclair State University’s campus community #Since2020.

The journey back to having a fully functioning recreation center on campus at Montclair State University has been interminable. However, it is finally starting to look how it once did before.

Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the recreation center was one of the true hot spots on campus. It always seemed to be packed with energy between training at the gym, playing club or intramural sports, swimming, special group event nights and more.

Students like senior Trent Freeman, who is also the area supervisor of Intramural Sports at Montclair State Campus Recreation, remember it as a place to hang out with friends and have a great time.

“You would bump into everybody at the [recreation center],” Freeman said. “You still can, but [before the pandemic] it was flooded. It was very hard to find open machines, [so] it was busy.”

A recreation center on a college campus is a perfect relationship. There are many students who in their free time, love to get some exercise in the fitness area or have an enjoyable time with friends playing video games in the lounges or other sports in the gymnasium. For the last few years, they have been aiming to keep that same experience alive for their students, while also keeping their students safe from the virus.

Many believed it was a fun and exciting community, including Romayne Eaker-Kelly, the director of campus recreation.

“I keep in touch with a lot of alumni and student leaders that [have] worked for us, and they describe their experience here at campus recreation as a home away from home,” Eaker-Kelly said. “[It’s] a place where they develop significant friendships and relationships and where they can come and hang out and just experience life.”

The weight room is a popular spot for students to work out at. Photo courtesy of Romayne Eaker-Kelly

The weight room is a popular spot for students to work out.
Photo courtesy of Romayne Eaker-Kelly

Ever since its reopening, anyone who wishes to enter the building must wear a mask at all times and provide proof of their completed Hawk Check, which is a quick health assessment on the university’s website.

For much of the last year and a half, using the recreation center was often a struggle for students. Much of the fitness equipment was off-limits due to social distancing guidelines, along with the basketball courts, which were frequently closed for regular use. Group events weren’t in effect and the overall experience of the recreation center was just not the same, according to Jack O’Dell, a sophomore product design major.

“There was a limit to how many people could be on each floor, there was only one bench and one squat rack and it was very difficult,” O’Dell said. “I wasn’t really motivated to go to the gym [anymore] because there would be a line and I would need to camp out in front of the gym for, like, 20 minutes just so I can get a spot.”

The recreation center now requires Hawk Check for all students entering the facility. Photo courtesy of Romayne Eaker-Kelly

The recreation center now requires Hawk Check for all students entering the facility.
Photo courtesy of Romayne Eaker-Kelly

During the fall of 2020, traveling restrictions made it extremely difficult for club teams to play, resulting in most clubs being practice-only. To help keep players as active as possible, intrasquad games and scrimmages were played amongst them. Although most seasons weren’t played at all, club sports remained mostly intact despite many protocols.

Because club sports are student-run, Kyle Bianchi, the coordinator of Intramural and Club Sports, serves more as a guide and advisor to these teams.

“We followed the same planning schedule that we would have in a normal non-COVID-19 year,” Bianchi said. “Since students run and operate these clubs, we did our typical transition process at the end of the spring semester, our summer planning meetings [and] our budgeting.”

On the bright side, as we approach the spring of 2022, the recreation center is starting to come alive again. The gym is completely open and is fully operating, along with the courts for basketball and volleyball, and with the return of club and intramural sports, students and staff are extremely excited.

“Our students are resilient,” Bianchi said. “If the students are enjoying their time and our programs are running well, I’m happy.”

O’Dell is one of the many students who is happy about the return to a new “normal” for the recreation center.

“Now that everything is opened up, I think there’s, like, three benches [now] and I’m actually able to go,” O’Dell said. “I’m more motivated to go. It’s better. I feel more comfortable going and it’s more of an easy task for me.”

As the recreation center is still trying to get back to what it once was, that is not stopping their plans for the future. These include building an esports arena which will be at the Montclair State University Ice Arena, and an outdoor multi-use court facility for basketball, tennis and volleyball, which would be placed over the existing courts that are near Dioguardi Field.

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