Island school sports on hold while community sports allowed to play

In normal times, soccer players would be kicking the ball toward the Colonist Cup boys’ championship, volleyballs would be spiking in school gyms and footballs kicked and passed on school fields up and down the Island.

But the pandemic has thrown the fall school sports season into disarray. This is after the spring season was cancelled, affecting sports such as rugby, track and field and girls’ soccer. Now, it’s the 2020 fall sports that are in doubt while there is cautious optimism for the 2021 spring sports.

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Community sports, however have begun this fall, leaving high school athletes and coaches wondering why it is athletes can go out and play for their club teams against other club teams but their school teams cannot play against other school teams. It’s the same athletes, after all, in both milieus. “That’s the frustrating part. There’s a lot of confusion,” said Rich Fast, athletic director of Oak Bay Secondary, and vice-president of the Lower Vancouver Island School Sports Association.

The provincial Phase 3 of the return to sports allows for team-versus-team play on a regional basis in cohorts of up to four teams. Quarantine breaks are required before the teams can rotate into new cohorts of up to four teams. That’s for community sports. School sports, however, are still only in Phase 2, which currently means only practicing and no school team versus school team games allowed.

“It’s mixed messaging – community teams can play but school teams can’t. They are mostly the same athletes,” said Claremont Secondary athletic director Darren Reisig, also president of the Lower Vancouver Island School Sports Association.

“Our student-athletes have such a passion and this is disappointing for them, especially the Grade 12s. But it’s out of our control. Community sports is in Phase 3 and school sports in Phase 2. We’ve heard whispers Phase 3 might be coming for school sports in two to four weeks.”

The provincial sports body, viaSport, says it only deals with community sports and that school sports falls under the purview of the Ministry of Education, the latter which suggested reporters contact provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry about the matter.

“We are looking at having school sports but they will be limited the same way we have been limiting some of the community sports,” responded Henry.

“That would be schools playing within their regions and not travelling around the province as normally would happen. And there would be restrictions on certain sports. Sports like wrestling are not ones we are going to be able to do safely this fall. There’s some others as well. We are looking at it and it is part of the school reopening plan. We are taking things in a step-wise fashion. So things like running and some of the sports teams will be going in some communities. But that is depending on the school districts and how they are able to manage that.”

Henry, however, did not provide a concrete timeline.

“I don’t have all of the details,” she said.

“But I do know it’s an important part of the [school experience] and sport is a very important part of keeping young people fit and active.”

Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking on traditional school fall sports such as football, volleyball, cross-country running and boys’ soccer with the winter basketball season looming. Even Phase 3 will have its limitations.

“We’re not going to have provincial championships, but at least the student-athletes will get to play regionally,” said Reisig.

It’s better than nothing. Student-athletes are only in Grade 12 once.

“What if Steve Nash didn’t play Grade 12?” said Fast, about the two-time NBA MVP out of St. Michaels University School.

“I have a player like [Oak Bay volleyball star] Lucas Maffia sending out videos to universities and hoping that will be enough.”

There is also that intangible element so intrinsic to the rounded school experience.

“Sports are so much a part of school spirit,” said Fast.

PREP NOTES: B.C. School Sports, the governing body, has mandated that every head coach, assistant coach, manager, teacher-sponsor and student-manager must now complete concussion education online. The Concussion Awareness Training Tool module was developed by the B.C. Injury Research and Prevention Unit at B.C. Children’s Hospital.

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