HELENA -- Charlie Gross hadn't seen many familiar faces in recent weeks.
The Carroll College director of athletics typically uses the Saints Athletic Association (SAA) Auction to converse with corporate sponsors of the athletic department, but COVID-19 cancellations and restrictions have limited his interaction with those partners. In fact, Gross hasn't consistently seen his colleagues that work down the hall of the Carroll P.E. Center.
That all changed on Monday morning.
Gross and Carroll welcomed sponsors of the Fighting Saints to Bill Roberts Golf Course for an appreciation golf scramble. The 18-hole event paired Carroll coaches, staff and SAA board members with the local businesses that support them year-round.
“We’re so fortunate at Carroll to be in a community that cares about our athletic programs. To be able to share the day, the golf course, our coaches, with the corporate sponsors, it truly is a special day,” said Gross. “This has been on the books for a while. The idea actually came from our coaches to have the opportunity to get out and spend some time with our corporate sponsors. It was probably about a year ago when one of our coaches said, ‘It would be a good idea to have a golf outing with our corporate sponsors,’ so we planned this a while ago, but it was during the time where we couldn’t have a gathering, and due to social distancing guidelines and policies, we had to delay it.
"Fortunately, things in Montana, within Helena and Lewis and Clark County, have headed in the right direction, so we were able to get a group on the golf course, enjoy each other and continue to build that goodwill.”
“This is a thank you to the many sponsors we have, the corporate sponsors we have that help with everything we do through athletics," echoed women's basketball coach Rachelle Sayers. "This is more our athletics department getting these guys together and saying, ‘Thank you for everything you do for our student-athletes and Carroll athletics.’”
Sayers' program was one of the many affected at Carroll, as well as across the country, when the coronavirus pandemic quickly canceled sporting events throughout the nation. Sayers and the Saints were prepping for a third consecutive trip to the NAIA national tournament when the cancellations were announced.
The ongoing restrictions have continued to foul the Saints' plans, though Sayers has looked for the positives along the way.
“It’s been a strange spring. Typically, you get back from the national tournament, you have a couple weeks off and then you’re back in the weight room, and we have a couple weeks of practice left that we can use," she said of the typical spring. "This year was tough to have our last, really good bye, telling the kids, ‘We’re not going to the national tournament and you’re probably going home to finish school.’ That was tough."
"We had so many kids that hung around, and I think it was hard for them to imagine that it was really over," Sayers continued. "I think deep down a lot of them were waiting for the call that, ‘OK, they’re just going to postpone it, we’re going to play.’ We have 12 kids here right now, all summer, they’re all working, working out together and getting back to some normalcy. That’s been really fun to see. They really bonded through this, I think they really relied on each other to get through it. The time away from the court was tough, but I think the time together was beneficial.”
On June 4, the NAIA announced its plans for the 2020 fall sports calendar, nearly a month earlier than expected, outlining its guidelines for practices and competitions. Gross said, though there are still many details to be finalized, having those dates in place has allowed the Saints to move forward.
"Now we just need to put a schedule together, and that will happen this week. The Frontier Conference has its annual meetings that begin Tuesday, and at that point we’ll really be able to delve into what schedules will look like," he said. "I think at the end of the week we’ll come out of this with something we can put to the calendar and we can all start actually planning much more specifically than we have been.”
“We’ve already had some teams cancel and say, ‘Hey, we aren’t going to be able to come out in the preseason.’ Obviously the Canadian teams are question marks whether the borders will open. And then what will travel look like?" added Sayers. "They’ve already cut some games for volleyball and football, and I’m assuming the winter sports will probably see the same thing. We’re just kind of waiting to hear. We’re planning to have a season, just like every other season we have. Our schedule is already full, and if we have to go back and make some changes, so be it. As far as our mindset, we’re planning to prepare to play a full season, and the kids’ mindset is that, so until we’re told differently, we’re going to plan to have a great year.”