Swimmer, volleyball player, golfer describe life during a pandemic


Photo provided by Keira Bannerman

At her season Houston juniors tournament, sophomore Keira Bannerman huddles up with team members before the game.

Nabila Wilson, Business Manager

There’s a general sense of unease in the air whenever one gets close to another. Nobody even blinks when Coach takes their temperature outside of the science wing. The bleachers are barren. The inside jokes and sense of community within the team can feel like a faraway dream.

Sophomore Renee Navarro starts her day around 7 a.m. It’s the morning of Dec. 10, 2020, and during pre-pandemic times, Navarro would have already been in the pool with the rest of her teammates. 

Today is different.

Today, Navarro will attend her first swim meet of the season. She’s nervous, but ready to compete and finally show what she can do. But first, Navarro must log onto her computer and complete online school for the day, something she never could have imagined a year ago.

“The day of the competition, I also had a math test,” Navarro said. “The test was pushed back because of technical difficulties. I tried not to stress to prevent doing poorly on the test, but I also knew that I had a meet coming up.” 

After the test, Navarro rushes over to Lamar High School for the swim meet. Last year at this time, it would have been the fourth swim meet of the season, but the pandemic disrupted swim practice just like it affected most things this year.

“We weren’t able to practice because the Bellaire pool had been broken all semester,” Navarro said. 

Navarro is disappointed that the pool wasn’t fixed a long time ago because many of her teammates couldn’t swim for six to eight months. Fortunately, Navarro swims for the Texas Elite club team, so she isn’t totally unprepared. 

“I was lucky that I had the opportunity to swim for my club team in the neighborhood after school,” Navarro said.

Because the Bellaire pool was broken since the beginning of the year, this first meet of the season is also her first meeting with the new Bellaire swim coach. 

“They had practices the week of the meet, but I wasn’t able to attend just because of COVID-19 concerns,” Navarro said. “So going to Lamar High School, I’m meeting my coach for the very first time. A little bit awkward.”

With the school having more pressing concerns, Navarro understands why they never got around to fixing the pool, but is frustrated she couldn’t connect with either her team or her coach, a rather unconventional aspect to this unconventional season. Although they can practice now, it’s still different than a year ago. 

“There’s only a limited amount of people they can have at the pool this year, but the max I think we ever had show up to practice was eight people out of 65 on the team,” Navarro said. “There’s a lot of freshmen that show up to practices who don’t know anybody, and I feel like they’re isolated from the rest of the team. There just hasn’t been the same energy this year, and that’s obviously because we haven’t been able to have the same social events or team interaction that we had previously.”

Even with the disadvantages of this school year, Navarro pushed through at the swim meet. 

“For my individual event,” Navarro said, “I kept the same time I had from last year, which, considering the pandemic and the fact that that was my first meet in six months, I guess that’s pretty good.” 

Sophomore Keira Bannerman’s most recent volleyball tournament produced a much more frightening outcome. 

She caught COVID-19. 

“I either got it from [the tournament] or practice because I don’t leave my house,” Bannerman said. “Only one of my teammates tested positive, but they don’t have any symptoms. I do. I know it doesn’t seem like it because I’m acting peppy and already got all of my coughs out for today,” she said with a smile.

“I already have some respiratory issues, and I have a bunch of symptoms,” Bannerman said. “I can’t taste or smell anything. I keep forgetting, and I’m like ‘why can’t I taste my toothpaste?’ or I go to smell a candle, and I’m like, ‘what the heck?’”

Ever the optimist, Bannerman revealed there were upsides to her COVID quarantine: getting the bathroom all to herself, having more time to study and her family bringing her food like “peasants.” Still, it’s hard. 

“It was very lonely because I wanted to go downstairs and see my dog who wasn’t allowed upstairs,” Bannerman said. “Twice my dad brought up the dog and let him run across the hallway while I sat in my doorway so that I could see him and give him cuddles, but then he had to go away and it was very sad.”

Her high school season ended early because multiple schools’ teams couldn’t play. They simply didn’t have enough players due to COVID-19. Even Bannerman’s Bellaire JV team only totaled nine players this year when usually they had 12 to 13. Bannerman admitted she is happy the school season is over.

On top of dealing with volleyball tournaments and a shortage of players, Bannerman missed a lot of tests, quizzes and content hours because she left early to go to games.

Varsity golf player and senior Jada Mills said COVID-19 did not drastically affect the team. 

“Golf is an outdoor sport and you’re not really touching anybody,” Mills said. “You have to wear masks when you are coming up to the hole and then just space yourself and keep social distance. Other than that, not much has changed.” 

Mills said that even with school, it’s manageable to handle everything, but it wasn’t always that way. 

“My freshman year I did volleyball, basketball  and track,” Mills said. “Then as time went on, school got harder. My sophomore year, I just did basketball and golf, and now junior and senior year I’m just doing golf. It can still be a bit difficult, but at the same time, teachers are understanding of student-athletes. If you are doing more than one sport, and they see that you’re trying. They kind of help you out, which is great. So it’s kind of a gray area, depending on what type of student you are.”

She adds that it’s different from team sports that have to practice every day and have weekend tournaments. There’s a lot less time that needs to be dedicated to practicing, at least for Mills, who started playing when she was 2 and still loves it.

For these students athletes, competing and continuing in the sports they are passionate about connects them to their pre-pandemic lives. 

Referring to her December swim meet, Navarro said, “It was exciting to be able to feel some kind of sense of normalcy.”