Athletic Director Lisa Joel Aims to Stretch Athletic Boundaries During COVID-19

Now entering her second year as Athletic Director, Lisa Joel aims to build a virtual athletic community within Andover to keep students active and connected. According to Andover Girls Soccer Co-Captain Emma Fogg ’21, Joel continues to bring positivity and persistence to the athletics program, despite the many challenges presented by COVID-19. 

Lisa is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. She puts so many other people’s needs before her own, and she’s also one of the most determined people I’ve ever met. I feel like I can go to her with anything, and I know that she is always there for me,” wrote Fogg in an email to The Phillipian

What are some of the biggest changes you have implemented due to COVID-19?

Certainly canceling an interscholastic season, which is happening all around the country at the collegiate level, at public high schools, at private high schools. This is an extraordinary moment. In perspective, we never lose sight that the health and safety of our whole community is the driver in all of our decisions. But I don’t underestimate, particularly for our competitive athletes, and it resonates quite strongly with me as the Girls Varsity Soccer Coach… this loss of a competitive season is significant. It opens the door to opportunities of what we can do now. I think that’s the focus we’ve tried to say to everyone. We can obsess about what we can’t do, but I think we have to turn our heads to what we can do. Re-thinking athletics in a [COVID-19] environment, no matter whether you’re at the high school or collegiate level, poses challenges, and I think that Andover is rising to the occasion. 

What steps are you taking to ensure that remote students will be able to fully practice in the team environment? 

What we know is that inherently what’s special about teams, no matter what team you find yourself on—whether it’s a life sport, a cluster team—some of the biggest takeaways are the relationships you have with your peers. We are trying to recreate that by pulling a group of kids together on Zoom. There’s some irony that quite frankly I’d rather have kids outside, moving, or doing some type of exercise than doing yet another Zoom meeting, but I think that we are trying to create social connections that can’t be created in academic classrooms.

Have you been working with athletic directors at other Nepsta schools?

One great outcome of what’s happened since last March is, since the start, the core group of Athletic Directors throughout New England prep schools, the Eight Schools Association (these schools include [Phillips Exeter Academy], Deerfield, Choate, Hotchkis, Lawrenceville, St. Paul’s, [Northfield Mount Hermon], and Andover) have been meeting weekly on Zoom… We are actually on a massive group text nearly daily. Especially since we have started the school year, we have been in contact to see what other schools are doing, schools giving us a heads up on things that they’ve done that haven’t worked out well. We see ourselves actually as an athletic director team. I don’t think we would have had that collaboration at all if we were not in this [COVID-19] environment. 

Do you expect that winter and spring interscholastic teams will be able to compete?

I think that’s the question on everyone’s mind. Whether you’re a high school athlete, a club athlete, or a college athlete, and quite frankly a professional athlete, we really need to recognize that the uncertainty is the uncertainty for all. We’re watching the NFL, the NHL, the NBA. We are watching games of professional organizations that have every financial resource at their disposal, and they still have enormous restrictions on how they are operating. The answer to that is that Andover doesn’t have that answer. We aren’t hiding that answer from anyone, but no school does. What I think we need to see is what the next couple of weeks and maybe the mid to late fall looks like before we feel we can make an informed decision… I don’t want to make any predictions because we are waiting on the science and the medical side in the middle of a pandemic to inform our decisions.