Pandemic forces Camosun to cancel fall sports

Camosun College president Sherri Bell described the cancelling of the Pacwest and Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association fall seasons on Friday as a “heart-wrenching decision.”

It affects Camosun’s five varsity sports programs, which include men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball and men’s golf.

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The CCAA has cancelled all its fall national championships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That will affect the Camosun golf team and the Vancouver Island University Mariners heralded men’s and women’s soccer teams in Nanaimo, both the defending Pacwest league champions. VIU was the Pacwest’s top school this past season in terms of results across all sports.

Basketball and volleyball, which are played over the fall and winter semesters, are looking to commence Pacwest play in January, with a decision on the start date to be made over the fall.

“Cancelling our Chargers athletics 2020 fall season is a very difficult decision,” Bell said in a statement.

But a necessary one in light of the health implications.

“Ultimately, the decision came down to our guiding principle of keeping everyone safe,” said Pacwest president Jake McCallum.

Bell concurred.

“While it has been a challenging course of action for everyone, the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans remain paramount,” she said.

Chargers men’s volleyball head coach Charles Parkinson has seen a lot during a career in which he played for the national team and did the volleyball broadcast play-by-play or colour commentary for CBC at five Olympic Games. But he said he hasn’t seen anything affect sports like COVID-19.

“Our players have to stay hungry and stay motivated through all this,” he said.

The Chargers and Mariners volleyball and basketball teams still have hope for an abbreviated season beginning in January. VIU is the three-time defending national champion in women’s volleyball.

“We will start virtually with the athletes online,” said Parkinson, also Team B.C. boys’ volleyball head coach for the 2021 Canada Summer Games in the Niagara Region.

“We can’t train as a group right now and nothing duplicates that. But the players can still hit balls off walls at home. We don’t know when we can get into the gym as the restrictions are relaxed. Hopefully, that’s not too far away.”

With B.C. universities and colleges beginning the fall with online instruction, Parkinson also wondered about even having student-athletes on campus at all for potential fall training, even if future phases of the provincial sports reopening guidelines allow for that.

Parkinson, who has guided the Chargers to four Pacwest titles in making six consecutive conference finals, said he is grateful that all athletic scholarship and aid packages are being honoured by Camosun.

“Our student-athletes are students first, and we will support them on every level possible,” said Bell.

“That includes caring for their health and well-being, as well as fulfilling any scholarship and financial award commitments made to them.”

Officials are hoping for the best when the calendar turns to 2021.

“Over the coming months, the college will continue to monitor COVID-19 recovery plans and follow guidance from the provincial health officer and the B.C. government, as well as the Pacwest and CCAA, for a safe return to play in January,” said Bell.

Camosun’s basketball and volleyball teams play in the state-of-the-art PISE gym, surrounded by the many Olympic athletes who also train on the Interurban campus. The Chargers have had national-championship success in golf and men’s volleyball and VIU in soccer, volleyball and basketball.

Athletes will not be charged a season of eligibility for sports in which CCAA national championships are not held.

“Our student-athletes, coaches and athletics staff are extremely passionate about what they do, and we will continue to work with them to ensure we get through this together,” said Bell.

“This decision was not taken lightly and we know it will have an enormous impact on them. We understand the disappointment of not having a fall athletics season.”

Canada West and U Sports had earlier announced the cancelling of its fall seasons, affecting University of Victoria Vikes teams, with decisions pending on possible January starts for sports such as basketball, volleyball and hockey.

“When we saw U Sports and Canada West make those decisions, we knew it was coming for us, as well,” said Parkinson.

“So this was not unexpected. But it still hits you when it becomes official.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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