Interview with Darryl Sims, 10/21/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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´╗┐GL: All right. This is Grace Lim interviewing Darryl Sims on Friday, October 21, 2022. For Campus COVID stories. Campus COVID stories is a collection of oral stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh about their experiences in the time of COVID. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. Before we get started, could you please state your name and spell it for us?

DS: Darryl Sims, D-A-R-R-Y-L S-I-M-S.

GL: And now for the purposes of again, getting good audio recording. Tell us again, who you are and what your title is here at UW Oshkosh.

DS: My name is Darryl Sims. I'm the assistant Chancellor for athletics.

GL: And I'm gonna skip to a couple of couple of things. So just tell us about your position at UW. Pre COVID, before March 2020, describe what you do and what you're responsible for.

DS: So I am responsible for the operation and oversight of the athletic department here at UW Oshkosh. That comprises of about 550 or so student 00:01:00athletes and about 35 to 40. staff, obviously, about 120 events a year that we have for normal regular season competition, and anything that we may be doing in the postseason as well.

GL: And pre COVID, what were your biggest challenges in relation, you know, and as it relates to your job?

DS: Well, pre COVID is like any other year, our challenges are making sure that all of our student athletes are eligible and they're able to compete. All of our coaches are all set and ready to go contracts have been signed, it's really just a normal, regular year in terms of how we prepared and things that we need to do to get ready for fall, winter and spring sports.

GL: And then moving to the early days of COVID. Do you remember the first time you heard of this disease?

DS: I do? Excuse me. I watched the Good Morning America every day. It's kind of 00:02:00my routine. And they had been talking about it was coming. There was discussions around it and and then I remember them doing a real in depth in depth conversation about COVID. And they had folks in from the CDC and Dr. Dr. Han line was was talking about it as well as it relates to college athletics. And so we certainly all perked up and pay real close attention to how this might impact us. For us worst case scenario would be that we wouldn't be able to have competition. And then what does that mean? And what do we do if we can't compete? So this was all at the at the early stages of just sort of thinking about?

GL: So I'm sorry, who is Dr. hemline?

DS: Works with the NCAA medical doctor.

GL: Okay. All right. So when was this with us, like January, February, March, or


DS: it was I would say it was it was late, early January, when they when they first started talking about it. And all of the experts were coming forward right to try to get everybody prepared. And, you know, these these thoughts and conversations were being had with with the experts. And so they were, they were certainly thinking about things that could happen way before I think the rest of the world had it as they should, right. They are the experts. And so it just it certainly flipped a switch for all of us that, you know, wow, if this happens, you know, the way that we operate is going to change dramatically, not only for you to be honest guys, but for every school in the country.

GL: When did you find out for sure that we are going to send our students home?

DS: You know, that came from the cabinet with insight from the our team of folks 00:04:00on campus the the Emergency Operations Committee, who we're working with, getting information from the CDC and, and also with UW system. And so the decision was made that, you know, this is this is gonna be what's best for our students. And why remember bringing the staff together and talking about it. And of course, you know, we were all disappointed, upset and frustrated. I mean, some of us had, what we have what we thought were really good programs, and we got to be really, really successful and it was just over. So it was a very emotional day. Very difficult day for our students. You know, the seniors we felt the worst about because some of those folks didn't get a chance to have their senior year now. The NCAA came back later on and said, Okay, if you want to come back, we'll call it a COVID. year and we won't count that against your, 00:05:00the number of years you get to compete. And so some did that, but many did not. And so it was just God, it was just law. So yeah, that difficult conversation, something I don't I don't think I ever forget

GL: you being a former athlete, I mean, what, what does that mean to have your season cut short, especially when you're having a great year, say like, the like the gymnastics team,

DS: it means everything. You know, those of us who have been around and been a part of sports, as long as I have, and others have 40 plus years, you know, you put in a lot of work, like any other person does, whatever it is that they do. But there's a lot of time commitment, you know, there's there's just a lot of work that goes into it. And you may only get one opportunity to play in that game, or be at that meet or compete at that match, and to not have that opportunity. Because there was something going on that's outside of your 00:06:00control. It's heartbreaking. I mean, I mean, we we had a lot of our people, has some mental health issues, all of that stuff develop shortly thereafter, it really opened up areas of concern and conversation that I hadn't had, prior to the COVID coming. But it I mean, it meant everything. And it's very difficult. I know, when I see some of our kids now who took the COVID year and came back, they still remember, you know, had we had that opportunity, we probably could have won it all, and won't ever know


that. So when you were when you were given the task to tell the coaches and then the players, you know, what, what was going through your mind.

DS: Tell them what I had been told, be very clear. It didn't need to be a long conversation, but be prepared to answer as many questions as I could. But the 00:07:00information that was provided by campus, for us to take back to our departments was almost like a one paragraph piece of information. And, and so I shared that information with the thing that I think that made it somewhat acceptable, you know, if we can say that was that there had been lots of conversations going on lots of news, things on TV, radio, radio. And so people felt like something is coming that we know, could knock us out of competition. And I think a lot of us were holding our breath hoping that that did not happen. But when they you know, when we had the meeting, they actually they all knew Oh, here it is.

GL: So Lauren has shared that what happened in this room? Tell me what happened. When you you had the coaches in here and you break the news? Tell me what,

DS: yeah, we had, the majority of the staff were here somewhere out on the road. 00:08:00And I just let them know that, you know, we, as a campus had made a decision that we're going to be setting the students home, we're not going to have any competition at that particular time anyway. And that I need to schedule an opportunity to meet with each one of your teams and explain this to the student athletes. And then the room half the room with deadly silence and the other half of the room, there were people that were crying, it became very emotional. And I think the whole thing took 10 minutes. And you know, wasn't anyone's fault. It was just horrible state of affairs that was going on in the world. We just happen to be a part of it.

GL: Do you recall the I mean, Lauren, Detroit shared this with us. That the she 00:09:00was, you know, just just trying so hard to to make the season happen. And, you know, do you recall what you were thinking trying to make her understand or anything like that?

DS: Yeah, I think I, if I remember correctly, you know, we we all wanted it to happen. And and we tried very, very hard to create opportunities to make it happen. And we were having conversations collectively with other schools in the conference and around the country. And you know, what did we do this and why don't we do that? Is there a way that we can make this work? But But folks just were not comfortable with taking those kinds of risks, and we had to convey that to the staff as much as it just pains us to say this. I don't want to have to explain to a mom or dad that their child caught All of it because we had a competition, and only with a handful of schools, right, like the rest of the 00:10:00country chose not to do this. But we did. And now look, look what happened. So, you know, people got it, they understood it, nobody liked it. Nobody, nobody wanted it. But they certainly wanted to make sure that the students, the student athletes were certainly taken care of. And so that that was always front and center.


So when you met with each of the students, you know, each of the teams, I mean, what kind of reactions were you getting?

DS: You know, it was, I would say, the full gambit, I think a lot of them understood that this was going to happen. They saw the writing on the wall again, right, lots of news information about it. You know, we were talking about it on campus a lot, the NCAA was talking about it. So it was out there. I mean, it was real clear that this is happening, it's getting worse, it's not getting better. And that there, there's gonna have to be some some some changes in the 00:11:00way that we operate as citizens. And when I met with them, they, I like to think that many of them knew that I was coming to tell them that we weren't going to be competing. And that, you know, you guys are going to be leaving campus. And you are the most important reason why we're doing this. And then some of them just, I mean, very emotional. Tears everywhere got hold of each other. And it was it was very difficult. It was one of the few things that I've had to deal with, since I've been here that just just put the body and throat, put water in your eyes, it was very painful. Did you cry? Yes. Yeah. Because I know, the amount of work that they put in.

GL: You know, the Do you recall telling me that the gymnastics team, you know, 00:12:00the news, I mean, that what happened there,

DS: we were in the gym, you know, I go into the gym frequently just to watch the practice. And so it's not uncommon for them to see me in there. But this day was very different. And I think Coach carnets had gotten in earlier, she was obviously very emotional. And she said, you know, dura wants to meet with the team. And within and they were all sitting there holding each other's hands, sitting very close together. And I said to them that, okay, here who's, who's the deal? Though, there will be no competition, I was sending everybody home, we need to make sure that you're all safe, and you're with family and that. And the room just burst up into tears. And I heard people yelling and screaming, you know why? You know, what can we do? And you know, I just I tried to answer as 00:13:00many of the questions as I could, we were getting to a point where they were asking the same questions over and over and over again. And I was like, ladies, I, I'm happy to continue this conversation. But I gotta go across the hall and meet with a volleyball student athlete. So if you made me do that, I can come back. They weren't interested at that point, which I understood.

GL: So after the students were or were sent home, and the seasons were actually canceled and everything, I mean, how did what did you do the rest of the, you know, the semester in the in the summer,

DS: you know, we were trying to figure out ways, how we can have people back on campus. And that certainly was a process, but I was at home, doing what I could remotely. I was not one of the individuals that had to be on campus. So I stayed at home, I reached out to most of the staff every day, just to check in on 00:14:00people when we were having conversations around the country and certainly around the state with, you know, if we if we test our kids, and we can reassure people that they don't have it, can we compete and so that that started to creep into the national conversation and and then all these testing companies start to bubble up to the surface and the different ways that you can test with nasal swabs and, and spit saliva. And so, you know, we thought to just talk about that and figure out how can we do this and maybe salvage something in the winter and maybe something in the spring? And that's what we worked on until there was an opportunity to come back to campus and those conversations continued and, you know, before we knew What there were there were companies that had developed ways to test. And everybody started to look into that. It was a very pricey 00:15:00proposition at the outset, which we knew we could not handle. But we worked collectively with the other schools in the system. Of course, at that time, Governor Thompson was on board and God bless him because he, he understood the importance of athletics on our campus. And he helped me up the entire system out, came up with resources, we got tests. So we were able to just remember, you know, basketball plays about 25 to 23 games a year, that year, we had eight. And they were happy to have those eight. We didn't do anything. In the fall, football was lost, and all the other fall sports were lost. The spring gave us a lot of hope, because everything was outdoors. And so we were able to have a 00:16:00limited number of people come like your son or daughter is playing, then Mom and Dad could come like two or three per kid kind of a thing. And so, you know, it just gave people hope, that we could we could do some of this and be okay. But clearly, it wasn't, it wasn't like this is what we normally normally do.

GL: He talks about the important importance of athletics and in higher institution. I mean, why is it so important?

DS: You know, there's the old saying that athletics and the arts are the front porch to universities and colleges around the country. As a former student athlete, and now an athletic administrator, I echo that, because the work that we do the things that we do, always front page, we get a lot of attention for competition, and the things that they do athletically, we try to remind people 00:17:00that they're equally fabulous academically. And so you know, there's, there's, there's a brand loyalty gets developed, team around and school morale gets developed, fan involvement gets gets developed. And, you know, people walk away feeling very proud of their institution, and a lot of that has to do with athletics. We make no mistake here, we, you know, they are student athletes, and the academic piece is comes first. But we also know that people really like the athletics that exist on college campuses. And, you know, it gives us student athletes and others to the athletes, you know, outside of just pure competition, a reason to compete,

GL: you know, of the response, or you your your staff had, you know, done during the COVID. What stands out the most for you, you know,


DS: I would say, you know, everybody was concerned about their jobs, and and we try to figure out, what can we do to keep them employed. And when the emergency operations committee put together the testing center over in our lobby, they needed workers, they needed people. And so, with the help of campus, we put many of those people to work, working in the testing center, making it hotline calls, and you're doing a number of different things to support what we were trying to do on campus, and nothing to do with what they were hired to do. But this was a way that we could one feel the need that the EEOC had, which was we need, we need bodies, and then two as a result of that we're able to keep people employed. Because, you know, folks, we still got families to feed and bills to 00:19:00pay and all of that.

GL: So did you put any of your stuff on furlough?

DS: Yes, we did. We were, like many of the other departments on campus that I get out that that was probably one of the other most difficult things I had to do to call people and say to them, that they were going to be furloughed for a period of time. You know, and I get why we had to do that. And I was equally furloughed, so I let them know this. This isn't, you know, I'm on that list too. But many people were very angry about that because they didn't do anything wrong to deserve to be furloughed in their minds. And I tried to reiterate to them time and time again that you know, this is sort of a state of affairs. We all are being asked to give, essentially and And so we had to do that I was equally happy when we said that, okay, this is the day you're going to be coming back. 00:20:00And so, you know, we got through it, I always say, we are a very large family here in the athletic department. We got through it together. And I think a lot of us came out of it better people, because, you know, you go through that, and it certainly brings you closer to family and friends. And I think you find out even more clear the things that are important. So I'm happy that we came out of it. Okay. And we moved on,

GL: how? How did the COVID You know, the early days of COVID? And then then this cancel season? How did it affect the budget for the athletics?

DS: Yeah, there, there was, I mean, the budget never got utilized, because there was no reason to, to use it. So we we've never really got it, you know, when we needed it, like when we were playing basketball games, there was enough budget 00:21:00to for teams to travel. And we tried to do it regionally. Meaning we were trying to play teams that were close Stevens Point, whitewater Platteville, we were not trying to go to like stout, or river right way over the other side of the state. So we were just trying to one be sensitive of the medical aspects of it all. And at the same time, trying to provide some competitive outlets for our students and our coaches. Because, again, we, you know, they love that we love that for them. And, and we felt that was that was sort of a healthy outlet that we hopefully provide.


So as far as a department, did you I mean, financially do Did you suffer? Or did I know that I'll be wise, or I don't know, I don't know how

DS: we lost a lot of revenue. We lost a lot of revenue, through ticket sales, game receipts, concessions, we, we've been working with Doug, financial 00:22:00services, for the last seven years, just to make sure that we got all of that tracked and listed and submitted, you know, our corporate partners who pay us to have us promote what they do. We, you know, we didn't get any revenue from those folks, because we weren't competing. And so we didn't think that that was the right thing to do. And so yeah, we took a huge financial hit. But, again, we we circle back, and we let everybody know, that we intend to, as soon as we're able, we intend to pick up and continue on. But yeah, that that that year, was was very, very painful. It was a very deep hits, very deep cuts.

GL: It's been over two years now, since that, you know, since we sent the 00:23:00students home, or that are asked our student athletes back, I mean, do you feel like that's their their back, like, pre COVID time or has things changed?

DS: I do feel like they're back. And for me, the way that I come to that conclusion is I look at their demeanor. I look how they interact, I look what they say and do when you see them first thing in the morning, right? They're all chipper, they're all smiling, and they're laughing and they're engaged, and they're really enjoying class and enjoy competition. We don't really talk about COVID. You know, there's certainly many of them are still with us that went through that. But it was sort of, you know, we we've been there. And we've done that. And we really want to focus on the here and now. And it's really good to see that we had we do media day in this room and our marketing people bring 00:24:00student athletes in here and they take pictures of them. They take some goofy pictures and some serious pictures, but just to see how they, how they're handling all of that and being engaged and having fun with that. I would say Yeah, very much. So we're back.

GL: You know, I skipped something. I'm in the fall of 2020. So we don't have the vaccine yet. And then my school is open for in person instruction. Maybe it was a hybrid and everything are like that. Are you concerned at all for your student athletes to come back? And you know, and then

DS: very much so you know, we were always juggling. You know, what you want versus what you need? Sure, we wanted them to come back as soon as possible. But there was always the concern of is this the right thing to do? Do we really need to do this? And we heard from a lot of them that wanted to come back and you You know, there certainly was a point where we had we weren't comfortable that we could assure them that it was going to be okay because we had the mass mandate 00:25:00and all of that. But there was still very real concerns that were being echoed from from many of our coaches who wanted to compete, no question about it, but didn't necessarily want to put the kids at risk, which we certainly got understood.

GL: He gotta go. Is that right? Yeah. Okay. All right. Bob's been here. Okay. Thank you. Thank you.