HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Minor hockey is back in business, following all the required COVID-19 pandemic protocols, with competitive team tryouts and practices, exhibition games, house league sort-outs and officials’ training.
The National Capital Amateur Football Association kicked off another regular season for youth players earlier this month on the heels of training camps.
Outdoor soccer continues and the Ottawa-Gloucester Hornets, celebrating their 50th anniversary this season, are offering free fall sessions beginning Sunday.
But Ottawa’s youth basketball community is largely stuck on the sidelines because of the pandemic, wondering ‘why not us?’
At this point, these young players only have a limited number of privately-owned venues to use to improve their skills and test their talents. The players, coaches, managers and executive members of six major Ottawa basketball associations are waiting for the four public, Catholic and French school boards to open their gymnasiums through the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Community Use of Schools’ program.
Once that happens, they can register players and begin sorting out their programs for the 2021-22 season.
Everyone connected with youth basketball, and you can include volleyball in that mix, too, wants to step onto the count now. But that may not happen for another four months. If so, the players, who already lost the entire 2020-21 season because of the pandemic, would lose the first half of the 2021-22 season.
That means more stress for more than 8,000 players, including many low-income, marginalized and racialized youth, as well as the clubs, which are feeling the financial pinch of no competitive and recreational basketball.
As a way to help their cause, the Ottawa Shooting Stars initiated a petition to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, seeking his help in opening the gyms for the city’s youth. The petition is supported by five other Eastern Ontario Basketball Association clubs – Ottawa South, Gloucester Cumberland Wolverines, Nepean Blue Devils, Kanata Youth and West Ottawa.
As of Wednesday morning, the petition – which can be viewed at https://chng.it/ZWqFmrdjgD – had received 2,205 digital supporters, including one from Patricia Hodges.
“Would only be fair and equitable to allow schools to be open for basketball to clubs requesting time and know this is providing much needed mental health benefits,” Hodges wrote.
Ontario Basketball has invoked Step 3 of the province’s Return to Play guidelines and youth teams are now allowed to conduct full practices and games as long as coaches, spectators and sideline players are wearing masks. The Ontario Basketball League has released its schedule, which runs from Nov. 6-7 to April 9-10 and leads into the provincial championships.
“Despite the fact that school sports and those taking place in City of Ottawa facilities will soon return to play, we understand that the four school boards will not permit external Community Use of Schools’ users to access gym space until at least January 2022,” the petition said.
“This needlessly-prolonged delay undermines children’s return to sport, undermining mental health, as well as the viability of fragile, not-for-profit basketball clubs. They have lost much of their revenues over the past two years and have had to lay off or cut back sharply the hours of the few employees they had operating these nimble organizations.
“In the short term, we are at a critical juncture. Simply put, without the use of school gyms, youth basketball cannot operate this year. (The) short- and long-term mental health and physical health implications would be tragic to our youth.”
Clubs are scrambling to find venues, but the private gymnasiums are sharply more expensive than the elementary and high school courts offered by the school boards.
While some sports can take advantage of city-owned and subsidized ice rinks, soccer, baseball and football fields and have prime-time hours, “major gymnasium sports such as basketball and volleyball do not get prime-time access to the few city gym spaces that do exist,” the petition continues.
“With increased public focus on equity, inclusion and anti-Black racism, we note that this lack of city-provided gym space is now being called out publicly. We would like to support you in offering solutions.”
The Ottawa basketball community is asking Watson to intervene and help all sports return to play. Here is the community’s three-point plan.
1. Help ensure Ottawa’s basketball association to advance fall access in Ottawa schools (for all boards);
2. Support Ottawa basketball associations in advancing co-ordinated access to Ottawa schools for the future – an Ottawa solution;
3. Provide Ottawa basketball clubs with fair access to city-owned and controlled gymnasiums in the same manner that hockey, ringette, soccer, football and baseball are given assured prime-time access to city facilities. Consider making this a policy in the name of equity, fairness and the fact (there’s) growing marginalized (and) racialized populations.
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.
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