The Illinois Institute of Technology Department of Athletics has not been immune from the unprecedented level of change that 2020 has brought as the COVID-19 pandemic uprooted college athletics across the United States, canceling the spring and fall seasons for Scarlet Hawks athletes.
On a smaller scale, the year has also brought change to Keating Sports Center, with Director of Athletics Joe Hakes retiring in July 2020 after nearly six years in charge. Hakes deftly led the athletics program, shepherding it through the transition to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division III membership and expanding the varsity program offerings with the addition of men’s volleyball, men’s lacrosse, women’s tennis, and men’s tennis.
A gift from Illinois Tech Trustee and varsity basketball player John Olin (ME ’61) in honor of Hakes served as inspiration to name the center’s court after the athletics director. Olin also created and endowed a scholarship in Hakes’s honor for a student who displays strong leadership qualities.
While no games will be played on the court until at least January 2021—the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference, in which Illinois Tech plays, has suspended all games through December 31—student-athletes are pushing forward.
The university’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) helped facilitate that by handing out “goody bags” and registering student-athletes to vote during an event on September 10. Partnering with the athletics department, the committee filled the bags with a jump rope, training bands, and an Illinois Tech Athletics mask, among other items.
“We wanted to help the athletics department get in touch with its athletes and hand out all these goody bags, but we also wanted to get athletes in front of athletes, even if we weren’t allowed to congregate,” says SAAC President Justine Bracco (BENG 4th Year), a member of the Scarlet Hawks women’s volleyball team. “It was like, ‘Oh, it’s really great to see you! Here’s your goody bag. I hope it helps you out.’”
Student-athletes began working out with some members of their teams in October, with the hope for a return to game action in spring 2021.
“We’re working in pods, so you see the same 10 people for about an hour; no intermingling of your pod and the other pod on your team,” Bracco says. “I think we’re excited to be doing something. While we’re understanding limitations, I think it’s just nice to be around athletes again. I think everyone kind of feels the same way.”