Student-athletes are returning to campus to begin their seasons, but with the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s COVID-19 testing protocol, the VWU athletic department is faced with the difficult task of securing funding for the testing. Each sport is required to test a number of players per week. However, this required funding that the athletic department did not have. In response to this dilemma, the #HelpUsPlay campaign was created.
On November 12th, 2020, the campaign was launched by the athletic department with an Instagram post that featured VWU’s Athletic Director Joann Renn. The video posted described the situation at hand. “The NCAA is going to require us to test up to three times a week before we can compete. It is an enormous financial challenge, but we’re all in,” said Renn. In the following weeks, multiple sports teams participated in the movement by creating and posting #HelpUsPlay videos to their respective social media pages.
After nearly three months, the hard work paid off. In an interview with Coach Renn, it was clear there was much support for Athletes to return to play. ”We are learning as we go, it takes a village to do what we are doing,” said Renn. As the #HelpUsPlay campaign concluded there was a total of 246 donations, bringing in a total of $32,886 for the campaign. In addition, the Virginia Department Of Health donated $20,000 worth of COVID-19 tests. In total, the #HelpUsPlay campaign received a total of about $53,000 in donations. All will be sorely needed.
Abbott laboratories out of Raleigh, North Carolina was found to be the provider of the COVID-19 tests. The tests cost $8 each, but come out to be $14-15 a test with labor and other costs. included. With the campaign being a success and the test provider found, testing begun. Out of 552 tests in January, there were two positives. In addition, there are expected to be around 900 student-athletes tested in February and 600 in March.
In an interview with VWU’s Women’s Softball Head Coach Brandon Elliott, it was apparent that the task at hand was very new. “We didn’t know the responses we’d get. It’s something we haven’t done before as a department we had to come together as a department,” said Elliot.
However, fundraising expectations were surpassed. “We had a lot higher percentage than originally thought,” said Elliott. “Faculty and professors have been some of the largest donors.” The interview also gave appreciation to what the Athletic Department accomplished. “This was a unified front from the entire department, I think that is what made it powerful. It just kind of shows you how special Marlin Nation is,” said Elliot.
It would have been impossible to return to play without the #HelpUsPlay campaign. Women’s volleyball player Haley Sutten and Women’s softball player Makenzie Watts, expressed that playing meant everything to them. “All of us are here to play. It means a lot to me, it’s my outlet, it’s what I want to do when I wake up in the morning,” said Sutten. The campaign made playing possible. “With playing a spring sport, it made me not take anything for granted, having everything taken away,” said Watts.
Not having a sports season would not only affect the student-athletes. “Without us playing our coaches could be out of jobs,” said Haley. In addition to the success of the campaign monetary, there was another bright light shown by its success. “It goes to show, beyond athletics, it goes to show the sense of community we have around here,” said Watts. Without the donors and the tireless efforts of the entire VWU community, the #HelpUsPlay initiative may not have succeeded. But it did.
The two student-athletes did not leave only their thoughts of the campaign, but they wanted to say one last thing before the interview was over. They wanted to give thanks to the donors. When asked what they would say to the donors if they could, Sutton responded with: “A big thank you!!,” “Thank you, it means so much,” Watts said.