Everyone at Athletic Business was saddened that we were unable to stage AB Show in Baltimore this year, and to see and celebrate all of our industry friends, colleagues and partners. We know the pandemic has been a struggle for our entire community, and we look forward to gathering in San Antonio next year (Oct. 27-30). Here's a look at how some of the industry experts who were slated to speak at this year's conference have navigated the biggest challenges posed by the pandemic as they sought to reopen their facilities.
The challenges of reopening were numerous and daunting, but most of them were just a matter of having accurate information, time and funding — and none of those seemed abundantly available. But my biggest heartache was concern for my staff amidst all the uncertainty. I tried to create a sense of stability in our new normal, communicate clearly, give encouragement, remind ourselves to give each other grace (as no one is at their best during trying times), and actively tried to keep our team connected and supported.
Maureen McGonagle, Director of Campus Recreation, Centers LLC at DePaul University
The number one challenge in our opinion was not being able to do a dry run of our reopening plan. We were only able to execute it once we reopened, and we had to pivot and shift quickly to take care of any issues that arose. We were fairly lucky in that we had a pretty comprehensive plan put into motion, so we didn't have to shift much from where we were, but the potential to shift was always in the back of our minds. We have been open now for about six weeks, and while there have been a few bumps in the road, we are grateful to be open and operational at our aquatics center.
Abi Schaefer, Director of Aquatics, Recreation & Physical Education, Duke University
The top challenge in reopening our facility was trying to plan for two unique scenarios simultaneously, while we waited for state/university decisions: remaining virtual, in which we have to completely reimagine how we program for and connect with our community; and reopening, where we need to completely change our processes, procedures and how we use our spaces. What I found to be helpful, was to really lean into the opportunity to be creative and use it as a moment to try new things.
Christin Everson, Assistant Director of Recreation, and Adjunct Faculty-Kinesiology, Seattle University
We are not currently open and do not have a set reopening date as of now. One of our challenges — now and in the future — has been that outdoor aquatics facilities were allowed to reopen in late June, so many of our staff accepted positions elsewhere. Another challenge has been practicing patience as we navigate this process together.
Frances Caron, Assistant Director of Recreation/Aquatics Director, University of California-Riverside
Our number one challenge in reopening our facility was staffing it. North Carolina was the last state to allow indoor fitness and recreation facilities to open at a limited capacity. We were already challenged with staffing for the year due to budgetary reasons, and two weeks into the fall term the remaining undergraduate courses were moved online. We had quite a few of our student employees end up moving back home or out to the beach, so that limited our hiring pool even more. We handled the situation in two different ways.
First, we had adopted a "crawl, stand, walk, jog, then run" mentality for reopening our facilities. This allowed us to open each of our facilities a few hours per day to see what our foot traffic would be like and to do so effectively with our limited staff while we took the opportunity to recruit, hire and onboard more.
Second, all of our full-time employees and graduate assistants worked frontline shifts — access, membership and fitness floor — each week to provide a presence in the spaces, fill in the empty shifts on our schedules and experience our reopening in a firsthand manner to be able to adapt into the next phase as needed.
Steven Trotter, Associate Director, East Carolina University, and Principal, Globetrotter Wellness Solutions LLC
In North Carolina, restrictions loosened in the state to allow fitness centers to reopen as cases on campus began to increase. We made a few tweaks from lessons learned in the early stages of reopening, but overall, we remain confident in our operational modifications, and the staff has done an excellent job throughout with planning and implementation. Our greatest challenge has been navigating how an everchanging campus climate impacts the expectations and emotions of patrons, staff and other stakeholders. We have responded to this challenge by maintaining open lines of communication across stakeholder groups. From staff feedback opportunities to an enhanced social media and web presence to regular communication with university senior leadership, we have increased efforts to effectively listen, learn, educate and advocate.
Larry Mellinger, Director of Campus Recreation & Wellness, Elon University
At Georgia Tech, one of our biggest challenges to reopen has been figuring out how to deliver quality programming that is safe for all participants. We have had many restrictions on our operations, including timed reservations and max occupancy numbers. This has severely limited our program offerings, especially group fitness, personal training, massage, intramurals and outdoor recreation. A few things we have done to engage our campus community include: offering free virtual group fitness classes from some of the CRC's favorite instructors, ramping up our esports offerings, providing interactive virtual challenges on our social media feeds, and encouraging our on-campus population to take advantage of our Pi Mile Loop — a 3.14-mile trek around campus — and our outdoor fields and courts. While we haven't seen our usual numbers in our building this fall, we do know we are still reaching many in our campus community through our virtual offerings and limited in-person programs. The pandemic has been tough for everyone, but our role on campus has been essential for students to have an outlet for physical activity, social interaction and resilience-building during this unusual time. At Georgia Tech, we hope to keep expanding what we can offer until we are back at our full operation.
Caroline Dotts, Associate Director, Healthy Lifestyle Programs, Campus Recreation, Georgia Institute of Technology
We were challenged with the establishment of new procedures and protocols for staff, programs and services. After a few weeks, wearing masks, reminders of social distancing and cleaning protocols became the norm, but still we need to keep our diligence up to ensure safe facilities.
Chris Nunes, Director of Parks and Recreation, The Woodlands Township, Texas
I think finally getting to the point of opening has been such a relief. We had been speculating when our governor might allow us to open pretty much all summer, and we put these artificial dates in our heads, and it was such a letdown every time those dates came and went. It has been a daunting task to figure out what areas of our building can be utilized for which activities with distancing requirements, and what areas will not be opened until later because we simply do not have the staff available to monitor those spaces and clean with the frequency that is required by our current executive orders.
Since opening one week ago, we have already moved/changed more than 12 pieces of equipment and rearranged spaces within our gymnasium area. I think this has been a tremendous exercise in patience, adaptability and listening. We opened thinking our patrons would want certain pieces of equipment and believing that we had offered enough of those, but we were falling short and had to make adjustments on the fly.
Bill Singleton, Assistant Director, Facilities & Aquatics, University Recreation & Well-Being, Oakland University
The number one challenge in reopening our facility dealt with bringing everything together to ensure that everyone knew the expectations and how this was going to all work. Moving equipment and developing procedures based upon state mandates/best practices was the easy part. By going all in with enhanced cleaning protocols and rather extensive new layouts in our facilities, our patrons took notice of the steps our department made to promote a sense of safety. The hard part was merging those elements with our facility members and getting buy-in that they, too, hold a share of the responsibility.
Members have to mask at times within the facility and observe distancing protocols that can make exercising a challenge. We have been open since late July, and by the end of August we were experiencing fewer issues with participants not following the new rules. It took a little time, but I believe that our participants value the importance, that for us to remain open — both our facility and institution — it takes all of us to do our part to keep everyone safe.
Casey Gilvin, Fitness Director, University of Kentucky Campus Recreation and Wellness
The most challenging aspect of reopening our facility was not knowing how patrons would respond to all of the special precautions that we put in place to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
While reopening our facility to the public was a step toward the normalcy that our community needed, issues such as limited capacities, gloves and masks were definitely a barrier to the normal experience. However, we reopened with a plan, evaluated the execution of the plan on a weekly basis, made small adjustments as necessary, and — most importantly — listened to the praise and concerns of our patrons so we could continue to serve them well and adjust when possible.
At the present time, reopening our facility is still a work in progress. We are still progressing with what we are able to safely offer to our patrons and gradually expanding service where safe to do so. Approaching the reopening of our facility cautiously amongst the COVID-19 pandemic, while not doing too much too soon, is the best care that we can provide to our patrons and staff while helping mitigate the possibility of setbacks that could occur otherwise.
Kyle Livesay, Operations Manager, Parks & Recreation, City of Pearland, Texas
AB Show in San Antonio
To experience San Antonio is to fall in love with its vibe. The 17th most visited city in the nation, San Antonio is rich in history and bursting with culture, yet booming with modern attractions.
The San Antonio River Walk is the heart of the convention community. Also known as Paseo del Rio, this 15-mile urban waterway is a city park and network of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River. The largest urban ecosystem in the nation is lined with restaurants, bars, shops, nature, public artwork and five historic missions.
The Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, site of AB Show 2021, is nestled along the The River Walk. The Center hosts more than 300 events each year, with more than 750,000 convention delegates from around the world.
Visitors will want to take a historic journey to the Alamo, first established as Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1718. Site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836, today it's a museum and part of the San Antonio Missions World Heritage Site.
Getting to San Antonio is easy. As the seventh largest city in the United States, the San Antonio International Airport features more than 500 daily flights, with 54 nonstop domestic and international destinations. The airport is 9 miles from the convention center.
San Antonio Facts and Information
• What will the weather be like? In October, the average high is 82 degrees Fahrenheit (28 degrees C), while the average low is 60 degrees (16 degrees C).
• The Alamo is the most visited attraction in all of Texas. More than 2.5 million people visit the Alamo each year.
• The Tower of Americas is a 750-foot tower that can be seen from anywhere in the city. It's located in HemisFair Park adjacent to the convention center. Good luck climbing the building's 952 steps!
• San Pedro Springs Park is the oldest park in Texas and the second-oldest in the nation. It officially became a public park in 1852.
• La Villita, an artisan village listed on the National Register of Historic Places, occupies one square block close to the convention center and features 25 shops and galleries that showcase local handmade goods.
www.abshow.com. We'll see you in San Antonio.
This article originally appeared in the November|December 2020 issue of Athletic Business with the title "The importance of integrating health & wellness" Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.