By Josh Brown
Miami Valley Today
MIAMI COUNTY — While isolated at home during the coronavirus pandemic and with sports at every level on hold, Miami County’s student-athletes are not only missing the social connection and camaraderie that comes with being part of a team, but also the thrill of competing.
Some of them have found a way to help fill that void, though — through online video games.
“Honestly, video games has kept me from going crazy,” said Nathan Kleptz, a senior on Troy High School’s tennis team.
With Ohio’s schools having been closed since March 13 — and now remaining closed until at least May 1 — and the Ohio High School Athletic Association cancelling the winter sports postseason tournaments and delaying the start of the spring sports season until sometime after the schools reopen, as well as a “stay at home” order ensuring that citizens adhere to social distancing guidelines and not gather in groups as the state works to stem the tide of the global pandemic, local athletes have turned the pastime of gaming into a lifeline.
“I’ve been hopping on video games and play with my friends and teammates, and being able to stay in contact with them really helps,” said Troy High School junior Caleb Steggemann. “I have asthma, which is one of the bigger risk factors for COVID-19, so my parents are really worried for me and I’m not allowed to go out at all. Video games had always helped with my struggles with anxiety and stress before, but now playing online is really helping me.”
Steggemann — who also runs track in the spring — and Kleptz both played soccer in the fall for the Trojans and didn’t participate in winter sports. But with the first week of spring season lost already and at least another month to go before they can potentially begin, it’s been difficult being unable to even practice with teammates officially.
“It’s kind of terrible, really,” Steggemann said. “Over the winter, I was doing every indoor meet and preparing for a big track season this year. I dislocated my knee a couple weeks ago and just got cleared on Sunday (the day after the team’s first scheduled meet). I was only going to be out for a couple of weeks and then spring was going to start, and this all happened. I just want to play and run.”
“It’s definitely been weird, and I’m trying to get used to it,” Kleptz said. “It’s weird not getting to see my friends on the team every day. Our first tennis match was supposed to be March 27, so it was a real bummer when that day came and went and we didn’t get to play.”
For Milton-Union senior Peyton Brown, the cancellations and postponements have been incredibly difficult. After his Bulldog football team reached the playoffs during the fall, Brown qualified for the OHSAA state wrestling tournament for the first time in his career — but didn’t get the chance to compete. And with his senior tennis season indefinitely on hold, Brown doesn’t know if he’ll get a chance to find out how far he could get in the spring’s postseason.
“I can’t even put into words how tough it’s been,” he said. “At first, yeah, it was pretty tough. But then it really hit me about a week after state wrestling would have been. I’ll never know what I could have done there — that’s been taken away from me. I’ll never get the chance. And now everyone’s going crazy and needing to get out of the house, so I’ve been playing video games a lot more, and that’s been helping.”
And that’s been the key thing — even though no one is allowed to be together physically, they’ve all been able to maintain social connections through technology, both in the classroom and also with their friends and teams.
“I’ve been playing a lot with (teammate Colten) Jacobe, plus I’ve been using Snapchat to talk to some of the former Milton wrestlers and get to know them better, which has been another way to cope,” Brown said. “I’ve been playing a lot with my old man, too, who has asthma and has to stay home. We got the old ‘Fortnite’ squad back together, too, which brought up some nostalgia. Beyond that, I’ve been playing ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Madden.’”
“I play a lot of ‘FIFA’ with my brother or my soccer teammates,” Kleptz said. “Plus ‘Call of Duty,’ and we all downloaded ‘Grand Theft Auto’ again. They’re all a way to keep in touch with people and try to keep everything feeling as normal as possible in these unprecedented times.”
“I play a lot with my best friend and my teammates on my club soccer team, the Fairborn Skyhawks FC,” Steggemann said. “We play a lot of ‘FIFA’ and ‘GTA,’ sometimes ‘Madden’ and ‘Fortnite’ and ‘Call of Duty,’ too.”
Even the World Health Organization is on board with online gaming during the pandemic.
In May of 2019, the WHO officially designated video game addiction as a mental health disorder. But this week, the WHO has partnered with a host of game developers for the #PlayApartTogether initiative, recommending gaming as a healthy way to socialize and combat loneliness while social distancing.
“Video games can really help you stay close to people even though you’re not with them physically,” Steggemann said. “Knowing they’re all still there, it really means a lot.”
But moderation is key, as with any hobby, and Miami County’s athletes know that when and if spring season begins, they will need to be ready.
“I’m still trying to get out and play every now and then — while following the social distancing guidelines — and if we do get to come back, I’ll be ready,” Kleptz said. “We understand that all of this does have to happen before anything gets better, though.”
“I basically didn’t play video games for four whole months so I could get down to 132 (pounds for wrestling),” Brown said. “They can be a distraction if you let them when you’re trying to stay focused during the season. But I’m still training right now, too, and staying in shape.
“I’d do anything to get out and play. I just want to play. I’ve been training for this for the last four years. It paid off in football season and wrestling season, and now I want to see what I can do in tennis season. Our hopes all have to stay high.”
And if nothing else, Kleptz has found one more positive side effect of using gaming to stay connected to his teammates:
“I find I don’t get yelled at as much for playing them.”
Contact Josh Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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