High School Sports: Safe return to competition doable, certainly worth the effort

Jacob Paradis, left, of Sacre-Coeur Griffons, attempts to tip the ball past Andrew Lewis, of the Bishop Carter Golden Gators, during high school volleyball action at Bishop Alexander Carter Catholic Secondary School in Hanmer, Ont. on Monday October 22, 2018. John Lappa/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network John Lappa / John Lappa/Sudbury Star

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When I graduated from Laurentian’s SPAD programme in the mid-1980s, little did I know that I would be able to add “administering sport activities in a pandemic” to my resume.

Yet here I am. Hopefully.

Earlier this week, though the number has tended to move around a little day to day, some 37 high school teams had confirmed participation in four fall sport activities including cross-country running, golf, girls flag football and boys volleyball.

And that sound you heard shortly thereafter was yours truly, the sports advocate, jumping up and down in abundant joy.

Here’s the backstory: On Sept. 3, SDSSAA phys-ed program leaders and administrators gathered virtually to plot a way forward for the rapidly approaching fall sport season. After discussing recent developments with COVID and the resulting barrage of sport implications, the group unanimously passed a motion seeking each of the four directors of education’s support and that of the local health unit before it would endeavour to host any level of fall sport programming.

One of the local boards reached out to the local health unit on SDSSAA’s behalf, and they quickly responded that so long as the provincial sport governing body (PSO) approved a return to gameplay and all relevant return-to-play protocols were followed at the high school level, then it in turn would lend its support.

For two of the boards that have expressed support, this meant all systems go, sort of, for the four sports mentioned above, but unfortunately, not so for girls basketball or boys football, which are only in return to train and not return to gameplay status just yet. For these two sports, the SDSSAA executive will be tasked with the challenge of trying to squeeze these seasons into another part of the athletic calendar.

What does the “sort of” mean? Well, according to each PSO’s return to play protocol, it actually means a boatload of things.

It means no mass starts in cross-country. It means not exceeding the allowable government cohort of 50 indoors and 100 outdoors and no mixing of the cohorts for team sports. It means no shotgun start for golf. It means mandatory mask-wearing for coaches and non-active participants. It means no spectators to address concerns around contact tracing. It means cough/sneeze etiquette, hand hygiene, physical distancing wherever possible, refraining from physical contact wherever possible, no high fives, shaking of hands, group pics, hugs, huddles or spitting.

And in this fall sport season, it also means no NOSSA or OFSAA championships, those having been cancelled last month.

Granted, there was already a lot of rules attached to high school sports, and now coaches and conveners will have a whole new list to bear in mind when leading local activities on behalf of their students.

In the end, it will be doable and most certainly it is worth the effort.

Few other jurisdictions in the province are electing to dip their big toe into fall sports. Indeed, I’m only aware of two others: Thunder Bay and Hamilton.

There are those among us who believe that this effort will all be in vain, that given recent spikes in infections, it will only be a matter of time before it all gets shut down. The Ontario government’s targeted, regional approach in reaction to COVID spikes gives one hope that activities in our backyard will not be affected, but even so, at the end of the day, no one could say SDSSAA didn’t hold true to its mission to provide sports programming to schools in need and therefore advocate on behalf of its student-athletes.

Even in a pandemic.

One thing is certain. The COVID situation is fluid and changes come often. Stay tuned.

Dave Makela is the athletic administrator for the Sudbury District Secondary Schools Athletic Association. His column appears weekly during the high school sports season.

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