HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
High school is back in session and so is interscholastic sports.
After a 17-month stoppage because of the COVID-19 pandemic, student-athletes can now start to think about returning to the fields, courts, and courses.
“We’ve had a number of meetings with the school boards and we’re moving ahead with athletics,” said National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association co-athletic coordinator Ginette Godmaire.
“Each board (English public, English Catholic, French public and French Catholic) has agreed to participate. The normal fall sports will go ahead.”
The Ottawa high school sports governing body will offer cross-country running, football, girls’ basketball, boys’ volleyball, tennis, girls’ field hockey, boys’ soccer, rugby 7s and golf.
“In some respects, yes (it was a difficult decision) because of the risks,” Godmaire added. “But the things we weighed were the mental and physical wellbeing of the students against vaccination rates.”
The Ottawa high school varsity sports schedule could start as early as the last week of September, but most likely the first week of October. Student-athletes in some sports can expect to make some adjustments.
Football is a full contact sport and players will be encouraged to wear a mask. Students playing soccer are more spread out and may only need to wear masks arriving, departing and on the sidelines.
“Cross-country running could have some modifications,” said NCSSAA co-athletic-coordinator Steve Smith. “I haven’t talked to the cross-country convenor yet, but we could have staggered starts.
“We could use chip times (intermittent starts) rather than (start) gun times (for a mass start). If we had a big group start, they would wear masks and put them back on at the end.”
Smith added masking will be part of high school sports and will vary from indoor competitions to outdoor events based on contact.
Mary Donaghy, the Ottawa Catholic School Board associate director of education, issued a memo to all staff Aug. 30 mandating phys-ed students and intramural and interscholastic athletes must wear masks while participating indoors.
She encouraged student-athletes to bring extra masks and change them throughout practices and games. They also must wear masks during outdoor events unless they can stay two metres apart all the time.
Godmaire and Smith are contacting referee associations to confirm the availability of officials. The required venues have been secured. But student bus transportation to and from games could be an issue.
At the moment, there aren’t enough buses to take children to and from school, according to Smith, let alone getting student-athletes to and from games. The NCSSAA is exploring all possibilities and may have schools play in their neighbourhoods.
“Everyone is keen to get back at it,” Smith said. “We’re working with the athletic directors and they’re contacting their coaches to see if they’re available to come back and be willing to coach.”
St. Matthew Tigers held their first football practice Thursday after school. Players were encouraged to sign up for the team using a QR code to get the appropriate forms.
𝙊𝙃𝙎𝙁 𝙄𝙎 𝘽𝘼𝘾𝙆
Football is getting back on the field with @ottcatholicsb approval of sport (pending @OCDSB / @ecolecatholique / @Ottawacepeo ). Practice for OCSB teams should be cleared to start next week. Check back soon. More return to play INFO #onhighschoolfb #OHSF pic.twitter.com/NoRP9ftMqM— OttawaHSFootball (@OttawaHSFball) August 30, 2021
St. Peter Knights will return with a new coaching staff of Robert Begin, Harrison Lowe, Ryan Begin and Stephen Kent, replacing veteran head coach Jim Mick, Tony Rino and Justin Malloy, who will mentor the new group.
“We are still in the process of developing our COVID protocols and having them approved by administration,” Robert Begin wrote in an email.
NCSSAA cross-country convenor Kirk Dillabaugh told runners on his National Capital running blog that “we have been given permission from the board (OCDSB) to run a XC program in 2021. While we don’t know what that will look like yet, please check back regularly for updates and information.”
OFSAA recently announced in conjunction with the province’s reopening of schools that it will stage all of its traditional 2021-22 championships and festivals. Ottawa is scheduled to host OFSAA wrestling March 1-2, 2022.
“We’re confident OFSAA events will be offered in a safe manner for all participants and volunteers, and are currently finalizing protocols that will protect the safety of all involved,” OFSAA said in a news release.
“School sports play a vital role in education and the lives of students and teacher-coaches, and we are eager to help make the school experience whole again.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.