Varsity teams face challenge of alcohol

Tyler Hurlburt

“On campus you are dealing with a wet culture,” said Scott Shields, head coach of Whitman’s varsity cross country.

There is no denying it: alcohol plays a large role on the Whitman campus. This presence of alcohol can be a major difficulty when it comes to varsity athletes looking to perform to the best of their abilities.

Head Athletic Trainer John Eckel sees alcohol as a risk to athletes’ health and performance.

“It’s a diuretic. Complications with diuretics include cramps and heat exhaustion,” Eckel said. “It also leads to impaired judgment and slow reaction time.”

These impaired judgments and slowed reactivity can lead to physical injuries that can drastically affect an athlete’s entire season.

Because of the potential harmful effects of alcohol on an athlete’s body, different varsity teams have a variety of policies regarding alcohol use during season. Volleyball and women’s soccer have chosen to implement dry seasons, meaning that they do not drink alcohol at all during the season.

Other teams, including men’s soccer and women’s tennis, cross country and swimming, do not go to this extreme, but do institute a 48-hour rule. This means that athletes are not allowed to consume alcohol 48 hours before a competition.

While this does allow for student-athletes to still drink some alcohol, in particular cases it can cause athletes to effectively go dry for long stretches in their season.

For men’s soccer, which usually has games on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the team would be unable to drink Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, the nights when most drinking on campus occurs. When the team has month-long stretches of two games per weekend, it leaves little time for partying.

Just as the rules themselves vary with each team, each team has slightly different ways of punishing infractions. These punishments can vary from a warning to missing a game to possibly being kicked off the team.

While almost all varsity teams have their own alcohol policy, in most cases the policy is decided upon by the athletes as a whole or the captains of the team, rather than mandated by the coaching staff.

Shields, who is also the former women’s soccer head coach, is an example of a coach who lets his teams decide.

“For any teams I have ever had, [the athletes] are the ones who came up with the alcohol policy,” Shields said. “I let them know how I feel, but ultimately it comes down to what they want.”

Men’s basketball coach Eric Bridgeland also allows his athletes to come up with their own alcohol policy and sees this as being more effective than him enforcing a policy of his own.

“Them holding each other to [their standards] is 100 percent more effective than mandating it,” Bridgeland said.

Because it is difficult for the coaches to know if an athlete has broken the team’s alcohol policy, it is often up to them to catch infractions and enforce the rules. This just serves to enhance the role of the team in dealing with alcohol use.

Some athletes choose to go further than the policies that their team has set forth. Sophomore swimmer Katie Chapman decided to go dry this season, even though the team does not have a dry season.

“I realized how much of a negative impact the late drunken nights made, how hard it was to fully recover, and didn’t want to jeopardize my season this year,” Chapman said. “I was going to try going ‘reasonably dry,’ just having one or two drinks when I go out, but it’s way to hard for me to do that in a party atmosphere.”

No matter what the alcohol policy for a particular team is, coaches are in agreement that alcohol is only part of the larger health picture. It is just as important, if not more so, for athletes to practice general good nutrition, particularly during season.