It was a hot Friday afternoon in August, students were lined up all around the perimeter of Stubbs Lawn, waiting for their wristbands that they would trade for scarves following the timeless Longwood tradition known as the greatest athletic march ever, or the G.A.M.E. for short. That is, of course, was what they thought would happen. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the G.A.M.E. was happening in-person for the first time in two years, but Mother Nature had other plans. Students were told that due to inclimate weather, the scarves would be given out outside of the Upchurch Student Union and that the march would not occur despite it still being sunny in Farmville, which caused much confusion.
Longwood’s Director of the University Center and Student Activities, Susan Sullivan, sat down to address the confusion and frustration felt by students. “At a quarter to five, I got a call from Dr. Pierson and Chief Mooney saying that we needed to relocate because we had some thunderstorms coming through the area. We didn’t want to march everyone over to the athletic complex and then have to evacuate the complex.”
According to NCAA rules, play must be suspended and a thirty-minute delay must occur if there is a lightning strike within eight miles of the stadium. Sullivan said that the players were able to go back into their locker rooms but that there would have been no place for students to go. She said, “A lightning strike happened within eight miles of the stadium at five o’clock and the complex had to be evacuated, but there were no people there at the time. Our concern was that we would have everyone march over there and then if there was another lightning strike, they would all have to leave and they wouldn’t have anywhere to go because they walked there.”
Sullivan stood behind the university’s decision to air on the side of caution despite no inclimate weather actually occurring n Farmville. “If you looked at the radar, it looked it could be coming close to Longwood, so we needed to be cautions and that’s what we did.”
Sullivan addressed the issue as to why that information and plan were not communicated to students more clearly. “The university doesn’t have a comprehensive communication system, except for the campus alert system, which we would never have wanted to use because it was not an emergency. There was no way that we could the word out to students that this changed.” To make matters more confusing, the soccer game against East Tennessee State still occurred later that night and students were still able to go, having already been given their scarves.
Sullivan also talked about how the university could better communicate messages to students in the future. “The only way is through social media. Longwood hasn’t invested in any kind of text message system, some schools do have that. I have heard that there are talks to have that here soon.”
Sullivan made it clear that at the end of the day, this was for the safety of the students and hopes to have a more concrete plan for the future if this scenario occurs again.