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Franklin’s Geysen Weighs In On Covid-19’s Effect On Students

Jul 28, 2020 09:19AM ● By KEN HAMWEY, Staff Sports Writer

Teacher and coach Tom Geysen says all students, not just athletes, lost out when Covid-19 forced school cancellation.

EDITOR’S NOTE: At Local Town Pages deadline, neither Governor Baker nor the Department of Education had announced the status of interscholastic sports for the fall.


When looking for insight and perspective on how the covid-19 pandemic has affected high school students, especially those who play sports, Tom Geysen is a highly-qualified resource.

Geysen taught English and social studies for 35 years at the middle school and high school levels in Franklin. He also coached a variety of sports at the varsity level — girls’ soccer, boys’ track, softball and boys’ basketball. Still the girls’ soccer coach, he’s led the Panthers to 32 tourney appearances in 36 years and his 2012 squad won a State championship in 2012 by defeating Nashoba.

When the coronavirus forced schools in Massachusetts to shut down for 3½ months and cancel the spring sports season, emotions ran high, and disappointment ruled. Not only were spring sports off the activity menu, but so, too, were proms, award ceremonies and graduations. The effects of the shutdown and the cancellation of so many activities have been difficult, and Geysen is acutely aware of how devastating it can be.

“School is a microcosm of the world for kids,’’ he emphasized. It’s their world. It’s where they build relationships with classmates, teammates, teachers and coaches. They lost an opportunity to be in positive social relationships within the school community.’’

A native of Charlestown who’s lived in Franklin for 47 years, the married father of three knows how student-athletes felt when they lost what he calls “their bread and butter,’’ but he’s also fully aware of how a dynamic vocalist or a capable musician have been affected.

“Take terrific vocalists,’’ Geysen offered. “They lost the chance to perform and to showcase their talent. They’re as much in love with what they do as an athlete who thrives on competing.’’

Geysen also referred to unified sports and the Best Buddies Program as areas where “losing out’’ hurt.

“The public so often only sees athletes who are publicized,’’ he noted. “The kids who are really good. But what about average athletes and any students who team up with special needs kids in unified sports. Great, memorable relationships are built. And those relationships benefit every participant. Unfortunately, unified track didn’t take place last spring.’’

Geysen is tuned in to how school can be highly motivating for students and athletes, but he’s also aware of the pandemic’s results and the thousands of lives it’s claimed in the country.

“As educators, we’ve had training in many areas, but we’ve never had to deal with a pandemic,’’ he said. “There’s no reference point. When winter sports teams couldn’t play their final game to determine State champions, it wasn’t an easy decision, but look what’s happened since March. The time we’ve been off has been lengthy but it’s been necessary.’’

Geysen points to schools as catalysts for athletes eager to excel or a student aiming for academic excellence.

“Kids who are athletes want to go to school to get decent grades, so they can play sports,’’ he said. “And, great students want to go to school to succeed in academics. When kids lost 3½ months last spring, that was negative. They lost their bread and butter.’’

Geysen is hopeful sports will return next month and that soccer will be in full swing. His goals for Franklin’s 2020 team are to qualify for the tourney and to contend for the Kelly-Rex Division title in the Hockomock League.

“We’ve got a good core group returning,’’ Geysen said. “We brought up some freshmen and sophomores last year, and they got playing time. We’ve also got several seniors who’ve been with us for four years. We have some slots to fill after losing seven seniors, so we’ll have our hands full. The teams in our division are strong, but we’ll be competitive.’’

Cognizant that fall sports will require adjustment and change, Geysen isn’t sure what alterations will occur with soccer. Adjusting for social distancing on buses, group size at practices, locker-room and weight-room use and water cooler availability likely will occur. “We’ll just have to wait,’’ he said. “I don’t want to create any situations in areas that currently are not a problem. There’ll be enough distractions to deal with if we return.’’

Geysen hopes that student-athletes who lost the spring season and were unable to compete this summer in club sports and instructional camps will regain their motivation to compete.

“It’s difficult to judge because it depends on the individual,’’ he noted. “Losing the spring season should make kids want to excel this fall. It’s not easy to make a varsity team, especially at Franklin. I also think that losing spring and some summer programs will make kids respect their sport more. Why? Because they’ve lost a valuable commodity.’’

All his years in the classroom and on the athletic fields provide Geysen with insightful perspective. He knows that the 2020 senior class lost its chance to compete in sports last spring for the final time in their Franklin careers. He also knows juniors lost a chance to impress college recruiters and that freshmen and sophomores missed an opportunity to become varsity participants. Geysen also knows that remote learning, while somewhat effective, can’t compare with the one-on-one relationships with teachers. “And, not every student has a safe environment at home. Kids have a safe environment at school and the people in the building help promote that safety and a sense of belonging.’’

The pandemic has been devastating. Its death toll is tragic, and its far-reaching effects have been challenging to confront. But, if school is back in session this fall and athletics are in the mix, it’ll be a positive step forward in what can be considered a return to some sense of normalcy.

Nobody knows that better than Tom Geysen.