College athletes have to ask: 'Should I stay or should I go?'

Symphoni Shomo fields a ground ball (Photo by Dan Hoke, Southeastern Oklahoma State University staff photographer)

Kolby KickingWoman

Native athletes who are seniors and participate in spring sports have difficult decision ahead of them

Should I stay or should I go?

It’s not only a classic song by The Clash, it’s now the question many collegiate spring-sport athletes are asking themselves after their collective seasons were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 30, the NCAA announced that student-athletes who are seniors and participate in spring sports would be granted an additional year of eligibility if they chose to take it.

Winter sports were not included in the extension.

The NCAA’s Division I Council said the decision gives schools and student-athletes the flexibility to make the best decision for themselves.

“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” council chair and athletics director at the University of Pennsylvania M. Grace Calhoun said. “The Board of Governors encouraged conferences and schools to take action in the best interest of student-athletes and their communities, and now schools have the opportunity to do that.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has made days feel like weeks and weeks feel like months. The NCAA made the call to cancel spring seasons just under a month ago.

Leading up to the cancellation, schools were still trying to figure out how to play their games.

Andrew Fletcher, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is the assistant athletic director for facilities at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado. Just before the sports world came to a halt, Fletcher was trying to find a location for the softball team to play their weekend games.

In the span of just a few days on the week of March 9, everything changed.

“That Monday is actually when Juventus and Inter Milan in Italy were playing with no fans in the stands, and it seemed like it was so far off,” Fletcher recalled. “Then on Tuesday that's when they started saying that the Golden State Warriors were going to play their games with no fans. And then by Wednesday after we'd made the decision to move our games to a different location for softball, that's when the NCAA started canceling conference basketball tournaments. Then by Thursday, the whole season, just the end of the year was just canceled.”

In the announcement by the NCAA, it is unclear how much time student-athletes have to make their decision to stay or move on.

Each student-athlete has different factors to consider. Fletcher said a lot of the spring-sport athletes he knew were on schedule to graduate and are moving on to the next phase of their lives.

“I think it kind of depends on what level of sport you're at, and again, on track for graduation or if you plan to go to grad school,” Fletcher said.

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Despite having a stellar and distinguished softball career at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, Symphoni Shomo, Cherokee and Choctaw, previously planned to pursue a graduate degree in nursing at Rogers State University.

While she wanted to find a way to continue playing softball and attend nursing school at the same time, she was told the latter was one of the tougher challenges she’d face in her life.

Ultimately, Shomo decided she will need to focus and dedicate her time to graduate school when she starts.

“I just decided on myself that this is my career, this is what I want to do, and I want to be able to fully invest my time into nursing,” she said.

Before the season started, Shomo was seven stolen bases away from setting the conference record and was on track to be the second person ever to be selected to the All-Conference team four times.

Symphoni Shomo (Photo by Dan Hoke, Southeastern Oklahoma State University staff photographer)
Symphoni Shomo (Photo by Dan Hoke, Southeastern Oklahoma State University staff photographer)

Like Fletcher, Shomo said the chain of events that led to the cancellation of the season moved very quickly. One moment, it was just the weekend’s games that were postponed. The next thing she knew, it was the entire season.

“I was here at home, and I kind of found out on social media,” Shomo said. “I kind of had some hope (that) maybe, you know, the season would start back up, but it kinda just came out of nowhere.”

In what turned out to be the last few games of her career, Shomo said the team won three out of four games, unfortunately losing the last one. She said she had some good hard hits and didn’t want to go out with a loss but is proud of everything she’s accomplished.

“It was kinda shocking just to realize that was my last game that I ever played in my career, but I guess I'm fortunate to have all these accomplishments that I had throughout my career,” Shomo said. “So I'm content.”

Shomo said she will miss the bus rides and hotel stays with her teammates the most.

As Shomo prepares for graduation and her post-athletic career, Chelsea Red-Horse Mohl, Cherokee, opted to take the NCAA up on its eligibility extension. The Stanford beach volleyball team had also just started its season before it was cut short.

Red-Horse Mohl said she and her fellow seniors were shocked and devastated when they heard the news.

“That weekend was our last game we'd ever play and it was on short notice, and it was literally the start of our season and we wouldn't have senior day and we wouldn't even have graduation,” Red-Horse Mohl said. “So I think for us as seniors, it was really, really devastating.”

Chelsea Red-Horse Mohl (Photo courtesy Chelsea Red-Horse Mohl)
Chelsea Red-Horse Mohl (Photo courtesy Chelsea Red-Horse Mohl)

As with most of the world, Red-Horse Mohl is continually adjusting to the current state of affairs. She said she has been trying to maintain a routine and has been in touch with trainers to keep up with workouts and nutrition.

All things considered, Red-Horse Mohl said she is doing her best to keep an active, positive mind. When the NCAA announced the additional year of eligibility, it didn’t take her long to decide.

“It was almost immediate. I definitely had no doubt, if I am given the opportunity, I am for sure grabbing it,” she said. “I don't think there was any doubt in my mind of not coming back.”

Chelsea Red-Horse Mohl celebrates (Photo courtesy Chelsea Red-Horse Mohl)
Chelsea Red-Horse Mohl celebrates (Photo courtesy Chelsea Red-Horse Mohl)

In this time of uncertainty, Red-Horse Mohl appreciates the support system she has created through beach volleyball.

“I'm just really grateful for the team I have,” Red-Horse Mohl said. “Everyone's super supportive of each other. I'm really grateful for that family I have. I just, I love the team, love being a student athlete and, it’s all thanks to Stanford.”

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Kolby KickingWoman, Blackfeet/Gros Ventre is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - kkickingwoman@indiancountrytoday.com

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