The Athletics Department held its annual Golden Axes Banquet at the Fredonia Hotel, posting photos showing the attendees not wearing masks or socially distancing. Students and community members later criticized the event on Twitter for not following University COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Since the event, the Athletics Department released a statement saying they evaluated vaccination and testing participation of student athletes and coaching staff, as well as complied with state and local guidelines.
In his own statement on Twitter, Athletic Director Ryan Ivey said, “Since July 1, 2020, we have administered 11,117 COVID tests w/ a positivity rate of 1.06%. 92% of coaches/staff & 40% of S/As are vaccinated. The Golden Axes was held off campus, & complied with all state/local guidelines. Our goal is & always will be to protect our S/As.”
In a later interview, Ivey said the banquet is something the Athletics Department has been hosting since 2019, however due to COVID-19 and the first lockdown, they were unable to host one in 2020.
“When they started to come back in July, going through all the protocols, all the regiments, all the testing that they’ve gone through so that they could compete and represent Stephen F. Austin, it was important for us to be able to recognize those efforts in some capacity,” Ivey said. “We decided that this was a good time to do it, and so that’s what we did moving forward.”
When looking to plan the event, Ivey said masks were not required based on state policies.
“We didn’t make announcements to wear masks,” Ivey said. “I think the state has been pretty clear on the state protocols from a mask standpoint. So again, this was an off-campus event; it was not on campus, so we didn’t violate any campus protocols. We followed what the state provided as far as guidelines on masks when you’re out doing anything.”
Morgan Rogers, director of Sales and Events at the Fredonia Hotel, said the hotel mask policy states employees are required to wear masks, but guests are left to decide for themselves.
“We do have signs on our doors that ask, or kind of suggest for them to [wear masks] but we aren’t super forceful. We leave that up to the guest’s decision,” Rogers said. “Our employees on our side are always 100% masked and gloved during all events, and all staff on property is required to wear masks. That’s just our housekeeping policies, but other than that we leave it up to the guests.”
Ivey also said only student athletes, coaches, staff and “select individuals” from other areas on campus who had been vaccinated or part of testing protocols were allowed to be in attendance. Out of the 550 people there, 78% had either been vaccinated or had antibodies from previous tests.
“We were 2% off the herd immunity goal,” Ivey said. “When we looked at the data as to whether or not this was an event for us to have safely, we really felt like it was. I understand that people want to compare it to other student organizations and other events and things that happen on campus, and honestly, I don’t have any control over those events. Just because graduation occurs in the [William R. Johnson] Coliseum doesn’t mean that I have control over those events.”
The University has since reviewed its COVID-19 safety protocols, and on April 23 sent out an email from the Office of the President that said, “All events must be reviewed by the COVID-19 team for compliance and sensible measures to protect against the spread of infection. Physical distancing and proper mask wearing (nose and mouth) must be part of the consideration, based on how many people attend, whether an event is indoors or outdoors, what the capacity of an indoor space is, whether there is food and drink at the event and other important considerations. Any university-sponsored events, whether on or off campus, are subject to this review and these requirements.”