HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
The National Capital Amateur Football Association executive has broken its huddle. Its members are set on the line of scrimmage with a determined plan of marching up field and dodging all tacklers.
After the COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the 2020 tackle football and girls’ touch football seasons, NCAFA is surging ahead in 2021 to bring back the gridiron game to Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec. And NCAFA even has a new look.
Tackle football, which in recent years has drawn about 2,000 players to 13 clubs, will still be front and centre. But players who have health and safety concerns related to COVID-19 with tackle football can still play the game. There’s a new alternative.
Touch football, which has been the non-contact home for about 800 girls, has transitioned to flag football, which will be open to both girls and boys aged eight to 21. Flag football is played throughout Ontario rather than touch football.
The flag football season runs May through to the end of June, while tackle football starts in early July with practices and continues until early November with championship week. All football is dependent on directives surrounding COVID-19.
By moving to flag football, NCAFA clubs can play in provincial tournaments and the Ontario championships. It also allows the game to be accessible to those who don’t want to play tackle or want a more competitive, non-contact game.
“We’ve had meetings and discussions and we have to believe there will be a season,” said Gawain Harding, president of NCAFA, the largest amateur youth football organization in Canada.
“We’re going along the path as if it will happen. We owe it to the kids. If we wait for the go ahead, it may be too late. If it doesn’t happen, we’ll be disappointed, but we would have given it the old college try.”
Contact amateur sports, like football, have been banned in Ontario since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago. During that time, there have been occasions when teams have been able to practice, but not play any games.
But in Quebec in 2020, there was a window when the NCAFA’s Gatineau Vikings teams put on the pads to practice and their midget team actually played four league games before the province enforced stricter pandemic protocols.
“We are not alone in this problem,” said Harding, who also is the Vikings’ club president. “It’s one of those things where we must remain optimistic. I joke that you’ve got to be that nine-year-old – if not today, maybe next month.”
Based on Harding’s experience with the Vikings midget team, NCAFA tackle football in 2021 could look like this: coaches wear masks, players use their own water bottles, offensive linemen stay together with helmets on, the team on offence uses one of its own footballs, which are regularly sanitized, and referees never touch the ball, which would be placed on the proper yard by a player on the advice of the referee.
Despite no football in 2020, clubs like Cumberland Panthers, Kanata Knights, Myers Riders and West Carleton Wolverines ran non-contact skills and drills sessions in a physically-distanced, bubble environment.
“Usually, this is when we (NCAFA) begin our planning,” Harding said. “We plan to do this. This is our intention. Let’s get ready for a season.”