Editor's note: With more than 50 Guamanians on college rosters, the effects of the coronavirus pandemic have placed many student-athletes in difficult situations. With altered timelines, finances and education in the mix, some student-athletes have decided to see their athletic careers though to the end, while others have had the decisions made for them due to circumstance. In this second article in the series on athletes caught in the lurch, the Post chronicles Chase Spotanski's journey from Guam to California and shares his positive message, especially to those impacted the most by COVID-19.
With the exception of God, friends and family and his love for the island, there is nothing Chase Spotanski likes more than football. When he was a linebacker for the John F. Kennedy High School Islanders, nothing gave him more pride than slapping on the green-and-gold and leveling opponents with gut-wrenching tackles.
To Spotanski, football is so much more than sport, it defines him.
“Sports is not just getting a jersey,” he said. “For some people, sports is a way to escape everything else.”
I know it’s difficult for a lot of people with no sports, he said.
Spotanski loves football so much that when his high school career was over, he took his game to the next level and joined the Moorpark Community College Raiders in Moorpark, California. After his inaugural campaign, he learned how the college game was played, which was much faster and more physical than anything he had ever been exposed to. After that freshman season, he vowed to return his sophomore year, make a name for himself and have his pick of scholarships to the schools of his choosing.
But between his freshman and sophomore seasons, the coronavirus pandemic led to the cancellation of his second season, potentially changing the face of sports forever.
“California kind of has (football) on a hold, especially in Southern California,” Spotanski said. “A lot of the junior colleges have opted out of the season, that, and the governor put a curfew. … They shut down outdoor dining a couple weeks ago. Gyms have to revert to working out outside again.”
As the virus makes headlines and Southern California has been pegged as the world’s No. 1 hotspot for COVID-19-related deaths and new cases, Spotanski holds on to a crumb of hope that Moorpark will somehow be able to salvage a sliver of a season, but even he’s not convinced.
“There is a slim, slight chance that we may have a season this spring - super slim chance, or at least be able to have practice if things are looking up by February, mid-February,” he said.
Although Spotanski is level-headed and prioritizes education over athletics, the absence of sports has left him feeling incomplete and unfulfilled.
“It’s been pretty stagnant this last semester,” he said. “There’s no in-person classes, no practices. It felt like nothing was really going on.”
Despite the severity of the situation and with his outlet for alleviating aggression and satisfying his desire for competition pulled out from under his cleats, Spotanski has chosen to remain upbeat and game-ready.
“There’s a dream. That goal you have, you’ve got to keep pushing toward it and keep putting in the work. Don’t stop it,” he said. “It’s very easy to stop the process,” adding, “it’s just keeping that focus and that tunnel vision.”
With a limited amount of funds tied to his GI Bill benefits and facing the difficult decision of staying at Moorpark for a second season or trying to walk on at a four-year program, Spotanski has about six weeks before he has to figure it out. If he stays at Moorpark and, if next season does pull through, he can put together his highlight reel and raise his marketability. If the season doesn’t happen, his journey may be over. Regardless of the outcome, he hasn’t given up hope, he trains every day and he keeps his dream alive.
“I know I still have a lot to improve,” he said. “If the season does happen, I want to be as prepared as I can be going into it, not where I am like, ‘OK, we’re going to have a season, now I’ve got to rush. I’ve got to do all this extra stuff.’
“I’ve been doing the extra stuff.”
On Guam, with just about no chance that contact sports will resume before summer break, the island’s hard-hitting student-athletes may be having a more difficult time than others coping with the pandemic.
Despite the obstacles, Spotanski said that these athletes need to stay motivated, remain optimistic and not slack off in school.
“No one could have predicted this,” he said. … “Those who are seniors, that aren’t able to play, make sure you still get those good grades because those good grades could still get you to college.
“When you get to that college, you can still have the opportunity to play sports. … Whatever their goal is, keep pushing toward that goal.
“Stick to the process. It’s very easy to be, ‘OK, everything’s on pause. Let me put the grind and all that to pause,’” he said.
With the spring semester underway, Spotanski keeps busy with a full load of classes and a part-time job at Fitness 19, greeting customers with a håfa adai spirit and wiping down equipment.
Spotanski said that he is thankful to be employed and is grateful to be able to do his part keeping people safe.
“I don’t mind having to clean all the equipment in order for us to stay open,” he said.
“I work out at the gym that I work at," he added. “I am very glad and fortunate that it’s open.”
Between wiping up other people’s sweat and juggling academics, which includes an online hip-hop dance class, occasionally Spotanski glances at a news headline and sees that football is being played in places other than California.
“I’m looking at all these other states, they’ve got football going,” he sighed, adding that he trusts in the process and this is all part of God’s plan.
While the on-again-off-again cancellation of seasons has been tough to deal with, Spotanski wipes down equipment as his collegiate playing career may be wiped away.
“It’s not fun. I try to keep a steady mind about it and weather the storm,” he said. “It will pass. Trust in God and his plan.
“I like to stay like a boat, rocking steady.”