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High school hiatus keeps local sports teams grounded

Pandemic restrictions and tournament ban to be revisited by provincial health officials on Tuesday
senior girls condor classic duchess park vs college heights dec 17/21 4
The province's high school tournament ban has put the clamps on multi-team competitions like the Condor Classic basketball tournament, held just before the Christmas break at Duchess Park Secondary School. Local teams remain hopeful an update by health officials expected on Tuesday will allow them to get back to travelling around the province for competitions.

The pandemic has not been kind to high school sports teams in B.C.

Restrictions on competitions imposed by the provincial health office just before the Christmas break have been particularly harsh for schools isolated from densely-populated areas and the ban on tournament play imposed on Dec. 20 during the height of basketball season has forced teams to scramble to find replacement games.

The Duchess Park Condors senior boys basketball team has especially been hard-hit by the Omicron crisis. Ranked third among triple-A teams in the province, the Condors are a day’s drive away from any other team in the top-10 rankings and there’s no other team in the North Central zone that can match Duchess Park’s depth.

They continue to play Prince George City League games against neighbouring schools (on Tuesday the Condors defeated the Prince George Polars 97-62) and they’ve also played a few games against men’s league teams made up of former university and college players. But those opponents fall short of the competition the Condors expected to face had they been allowed travel to out-of-town tournaments this month.

B.C. School Sports is allowing teams to practice and play single-game competitions against one other team but prohibits teams from playing single-game mini-tours in which they play more than one team on consecutive days, which forced the Condors to scrap that plan. Seven of the 10 top-ranked triple-A boys teams are in close proximity with each other in the Lower Mainland, which makes it much easier to arrange games, and that’s a huge disadvantage to a Condors team hoping to improve on its silver-medal finish at the most recent B.C. championship in March 2020.

The Condors were invited for the first time in their history to the Western Canadian quad-A tournament in Kelowna in February, but that has now been cancelled. Instead, Duchess Park is planning a trip to Kelowna, Feb.  3-5, to play exhibition games against a Kelowna team and one from Vancouver Island. Duchess Park is also considering a trip to Prince Rupert. On Wednesday, the younger Condor players took on the Prince George Polars junior team, ranked No. 9 in the province.

“It’s kind of week-by-week right now,” said Condors head coach Jordan Yu. “We’re still playing our league games and we’re scheduling some exhibition games. We’re just trying to get as many quality games for all of our players as we can and keep them motivated with game play, you can only practice so long.

“We’re trying to stay optimistic. We hear on the 18th there will be some more information released and whether this is for the good or for the bad, we don’t know yet. I think everyone is expecting a spike of COVID cases to happen at the end of this month and I just can’t see it getting any better as of right now.”

An update from the province is expected on Tuesday and Yu is hopeful the tournament ban will be lifted in time for the Condors to attend the Robert Bateman tournament in Abbotsford in mid-February.

“We’re advised not to travel right now and so we’re kind of isolated up here in Prince George, but the minute that travel restrictions are lifted, if tournaments are still not allowed, we will schedule games against St. Pats, No. 1  in the province right now, and against Elgin Park, No. 2,” said Yu. “We’re in contact with these coaches and they’re open-minded about the situation and everyone is trying to work together. They know how much this affects us up in the north.”

This year’s girls provincial basketball tournaments are set for March 2-5 in Langley for double-A, triple-A and quad-A teams, and in Kelowna for the single-A championship. The boys tournaments in all four tiers are scheduled for March 9-12 at Langley Events Centre, just before the spring break. Yu said there’s no way to extend the season because the LEC is fully-booked beyond the scheduled provincial dates and no alternate facilities immediately available on short notice.

Students involved in individual varsity sports such as wrestling, gymnastics, skiing and snowboarding are allowed scaled-down tournaments or competitions which limit the numbers of participants and the number of schools involved. A wrestling tournament planed for Shas-Ti Kelly Road Secondary School two weekends ago was cancelled.

“They’re recommending we have dual (wrestling) meets, so what would happen is our school would go against another school and we would have a little fight day and then we’d do it again a week later against another school, sort of thing, so if you have an exposure you don’t expose the entire wrestling community,” said Shas Ti Kelly Road athletics director Todd Kuc.

“The whole idea is to try keep a semblance of normalcy while still allowing the students to do it safely. The intent was not to interrupt scheduled (basketball) league games, but the idea is not to pack in a bunch of games because as soon as you start doing that your chances of super-spreader events are going to increase.”

Prince George Secondary School athletics director Jasen Florell says his school is also working around the tournament ban by setting up exhibition games for the Polars basketball teams. A trip to Prince Rupert for the Polars senior boys, junior A boys and junior B boys teams is in the works for Jan. 28-29 .

“Locally, you can play one school one day and that’s it, and play another school another day,” said Florell. “They say you can do wrestling because it’s an individual sport but they want to keep it to a minimum number of schools participating to keep the numbers low.”

(Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry) said she was doing an update on the 18th and I can’t see it changing, but you never know.”

In the latest provincial boys basketball rankings, released Tuesday, the Cedars Christian Eagles are ranked 10th in the single-A list, while the Condors are No. 3 in triple-A behind St. Patrick’s Celtics of Vancouver and No. 2 Elgin Park Orcas of Surrey.

In the most recent provincial girls rankings, released Dec. 20, the College Heights Cougars are fourth in triple-A, behind Brookswood Bobcats of Langley, MEI Eagles of Abbotsford and R.A. McMath Wildcats of Richmond. The Duchess Park Condors earned honorable mention status on the triple-A list.