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PHOTOS: Several Prince George winter-sport athletes, organizers sit-in at city hall to demand arena reopenings

A message has been said by young athletes to the City of Prince George... "Open the rinks!"

It's also the request of dozens of Prince George sports organizers, supporters and parents who took part in social-distanced 'sit-in' today (July 27) hours before councillors gather in the chambers to make a decision on whether or not to close its four public arenas for the rest of the year.

On July 14, the city announced the indefinite closure of the CN Centre, Kin Arenas, Rolling Mix Concrete Arena and Elksentre, and other related-public facilities, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to save money with a projected budget shortfall of $9 million.

The winter-sporting community immediately responded with frustration and shock, many of which were noticeably at city hall today.

Jess Derksen organized the event in hopes of bringing a voice to the kids who rely on sports to expand their social and active lives.

The School District 57 Education Assistant said she spoke with Coun. Terri McConnachie before she went into city hall, mentioning it should be important for the city to think of the athletes.

"It's important for kids' mental health and well-being that they're able to get out, especially in the wintertime in Prince George where they get couped up. These kids have been working their butts off in their different sports for years. They've already suffered so much with COVID-19 and they're missing their sport families; that network is very important."

While Derksen understands the city's financial circumstance as a result of COVID-19, she believes some numbers can be changed given the community's yearly contributions.

"A large part of our tax money goes to [recreation centres], it's really hard for me to believe that we couldn't make something work. I could just see parts of the budget that could be arranged and I think there's areas of improvement to make up for some shortfall."

"I have ADHD and it really helps with me being active all the time and being on a scheduled," said Derksen's 12-year-old son Kohl when asked by PrinceGeorgeMatters at the sit-in of what it means to him to step in the ice with the local Minor Hockey Association (PGMHA).

"I just feel relief and I feel like I'm in control again [...] I probably would be too depressed [if arenas would close]. I would be more appreciative if [hockey] went on."

PGMHA representatives were noticeably in attendance as well as members from the Northern BC Centre for Skating, who frequent the Kin Arenas to practice, train and host competitions.

"We want to skate on the ice," said Keira, a 13-year-old ice dancer.

"We normally have summer ice four days a week and it's lots of fun. I like the challenge, I like my coaches and everyone I meet there. It's a good way to exercise and to meet people."

Elieen, also a 13-year-old Prince George figure skater, echoed Keira's words, noting the ultimate downfall if the 2020-21 season can't be in the northern capital.

"We miss training a lot and it's really special to us. We'll likely have to train elsewhere if the arenas are closed for the season."

The sit-in was also put together to recognize the hard work and efforts of coaches and staff who run sports clubs year after year.

To put his frustration into a 'G-rated' version, Rory Allen, a director with the Northern BC Centre for Skating, says the last two weeks have been rough on everyone involved with the organization.

"People often don't understand that this is not just a hobby, it's not just a pastime," he told PrinceGeorgeMatters, noting the club brings in about 400 skaters year-round.

"It's our full-time career! It literally feels like someone has taken a piece of me, and that's said for everyone that comes through our door. We won't even understand the full magnitude of this until years later. We're trying to set these kids with good tools in life, set them up for success and it's unfathomable that we could be in this situation while the rest of the province opens."

Andrea Ludditt, also a director with the Northern BC Centre for Skating, says, while noting the financial impact of COVID-19 everywhere, it's hard to wear a logical 'hat' when careers are potentially on the edge.

She says sports like figure skating allow youth to learn life skills more effectively than in a classroom.

"We talk about kids losing their sparkle and their shine because of this, and I believe, at the end of the day, kids learn life through sport. You fail, you get up, you don't win, you lose way more than you win, but you win differently, you win as a person."

City Director of Public Safety Adam Davey is tabling a report to council tonight, recommending to keep arenas closed for the rest of 2020 to reduce the city's budget shortfall.

The public meeting starts at 6 p.m. this evening and is also available to livestream via the city's website.

Ayden, a 10-year-old defenceman with PGMHA, said it would be 'annoying' to not start a season in the Fall.

"Without hockey, I would probably be depressed. Hockey is my happy place," he said.

Editor's Note: Story to be updated as information comes in and a decision is made.