COVID putting the clamp on school sports

High school athletes hoping to get back to playing their favourite fall sports have been hamstrung by the pandemic, resulting in the cancelation of all inter-school competitions.

Some intramural play in soccer and volleyball is happening or about to get underway in Prince George schools but even that has been limited by B.C. School Sports, which is operating under Stage 2 protocols (the second-most restrictive), as ordered by the provincial health authority.

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For Todd Kuc, the senior boys volleyball coach at Kelly Road/Shas Ti Secondary School, there’s no way he can get his team together in the shiny hardcourt gymnasium of his newly-opened school.

“Schools don’t play schools right now, and even in your school you can only go with your learning cohorts to practice,” said Kuc. “Right now we have three learning cohorts in Grade 11 and 12 (about 90 students in each) and they are practicing together, guys and girls, in three separate groups.

“You can’t play against each other if you’re in different cohort, you can’t share equipment. They’re going to have to get rid of some of those restrictions or there’s not going to be any sports. Some of the guys in Grade 12 have been playing since Grade 8 and they want to finish off their fifth year. They’re so desperate they don’t care if they don’t travel, they just want to play in town.”

Athletes are allowed to play sports together without the use of masks but only within their own cohorts. Students remain segregated throughout the school day in their own learning cohorts and can associate with other students and teachers without masks while keeping one metre apart from each other. If a student or teacher from another cohort comes into the classroom or whenever students are moving in hallways or through common areas, masks are required.

Kuc said if schools were under the same rules as sports clubs, as long as there’s no more than 50 people in one gathering, they would be allowed to play with each other. But the rules state different cohorts must remain two metres apart, which would be impossible to maintain in a team sport. He said student athletes could get around the rule that bans mixing of cohorts if they wore masks during their activities. But until rules change and BCSS moves to Stage 3 of its return-to-play plan school sports will remain at a virtual standstill.

Some schools are beginning cross country running practices, which take place outdoors where physical distancing is easily maintained, but no competitions will be happening this fall.

“They can do that because they are social distancing,” Kuc said. “Any sport where you can social distance you could do, but if you have to share equipment, like volleyball, or if you have to get too close to play that would be an issue.”

While some of the bigger high schools have as many as 120 students, Kelly Road/Shas Ti cohorts for Grades 8, 9 and 10 have just 30 students, and that makes it even more difficult to find enough athletes within one of those cohorts for after-school volleyball practices.

The Prince George high school football league has been canceled. Athletes in contact sports such as football and rugby are allowed to practice within their own cohorts, but football line play is not allowed and scrums in rugby are also forbidden. Contact, as defined in the BCSS guidelines, pertains to the amount of time spent in close proximity to another person, rather than the rough physical play associated with sports like football.

Prince George Secondary School has its hockey program back on the ice for practices at the Kin Centre after a series of modifications were put in place to ensure player safety. School coaches and phys-ed teachers are trying to think up creative ways to get their student-athletes involved in organized activities that won’t flout the provincial guidelines. PGSS athletic director Jasen Florell said he’s about to unveil a volleyball intramural program this week and hopes there will be enough interest in the school to form at least two teams for each gender.

“We’re just trying to get it going here and if we can’t get enough kids to run something we might have boys and girls playing at the same time, as long as they’re in the same cohort,” said Florell. “Basically it’s just training and practicing and intra-murals and getting some touches in with volleyball and cross-country running. The kids all know what’s going on and they’re hoping something will start up.

“I know the city football league has their own thing going on but I haven’t been contacted by any of the (high school) coaches or players.”

BCSS is pressuring the ministry to move to the next stage in the return-to-play plan but has yet to gain approval. A provincial review of how schools are doing with the new restrictions is expected in mid-October.

If BCSS gets the go-ahead to move to Stage 3, inter-school competitions would be allowed under varying degrees of restrictions depending on how much contact each activity involves. Individual sports - badminton, cross country, track and field and mountain biking - and minimal-contact team - curling and volleyball - would be the least restrictive. Sports that result in more physical contact - basketball, soccer, ultimate, football, rugby and wrestling - would be more regulated.


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