HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
For the first time in two years, the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association is scheduled to send a representative to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations’ championships.
But hold the applause. Curb your excitement. Take a deep breath.
After going 15 months without high school sports at the NCSSAA level (March, 2020 to June, 2021) because of the COVID-19 pandemic and then seeing it return this fall in various, unfamiliar forms for 2021-22, the NCSSAA has now received permission from the four school boards to allow only two winter-sport champions to advance to the provincial high school championships.
The NCSSAA fall champions were restricted from entering OFSAA championships in September through December because the English and French public and Catholic school boards didn’t want student-athletes travelling to championships where they had to stay overnight.
OFSAA is scheduled to stage two 2022 winter championships in Eastern Ontario and the NCSSAA is planning to send its champions to the girls’ senior AAA volleyball tournament March 7-9 in Rockland and the girls’ senior A/AA hockey tournament March 23-26 in Cornwall.
Both of those host cities can be driven to and from in a relatively short time each day from Ottawa so student-athletes and teacher-coaches don’t have to be concerned with overnight hotel stays.
“We’re glad to have the opportunity to send some kids,” NCSSAA co-athletic director Steve Smith said Tuesday in a phone interview. “The boards thought it would be a good decision and maybe this will help shape decisions for the spring.”
The NCSSAA, however, will not attend any other OFSAA winter-sport championships in alpine skiing, boys’ A, AA and AAA basketball, curling, boys’ A/AA and AAA hockey, girls’ AAA hockey, nordic skiing, swimming, girls’ A and AA volleyball and wrestling.
A decision about whether the NCSSAA will attend any OFSAA spring-sport championships will be made in the future, after consulting with the four school boards.
On Dec. 8, the OFSAA wrestling and swimming championships were cancelled because the host organizing committees withdrew as a result of health and safety concerns related to the pandemic. In both cases, OFSAA couldn’t find another association to stage the championships.
The NCSSAA was scheduled to play host to the OFSAA wrestling championships.
“It was too big an undertaking and we were uncertain how many associations would attend,” Smith said. “What was happening in the fall was Toronto and Southern Ontario schools were only picking (OFSAA) events that were close to them.”
Smith and Ginette Godmaire, a NCSSAA co-athletic director, have regularly met with representatives from the four school boards during the pandemic to talk about presenting a safe sports program for student-athletes and teacher-coaches.
Two weeks ago, the boards decided they still weren’t comfortable sending student-athletes to OFSAA championships, which involved school teams staying overnight in hotels. Officials were concerned about how many students would be in each room, what would happen if there was a COVID-19 outbreak, how long they would have to stay and how they would get home.
When this travel restriction was implemented in the fall and winning teams couldn’t attend OFSAA championships, the majority of schools understood, but “some teams were disappointed they couldn’t go and some thought they were still going, which created some angst at one school,” Smith said.
“Most people understand and most coaches, being teachers working in the schools, knew the impact the pandemic was having on a school.”
“They (student-athletes, teacher-coaches) feel excited to be back doing something,” Godmaire said about NCSSAA sports returning three months ago. “They’re grateful.”
The NCSSAA winter-sport season is underway under a revised format.
The boys’ junior basketball season started last month and will run to mid January. The boys’ senior teams will start in mid January and continue to the March break.
The seasons have been split apart because of a shortage of basketball referees. In the past, the NCSSAA would stage about 14 games a day, but that number has been reduced to 10 for this season.
It’s a similar situation for girls’ volleyball. The girls’ Tier 1 volleyball regular season is almost complete and the girls’ OFSAA and Tier 2 leagues will run late January to mid-February.
Alpine skiing will be centred at Camp Fortune and cross-country skiing will be held at the Nakkertok Ski Club. Participants must follow the health and safety guidelines at those two venues.
Hockey will be staged as two, one-day tournaments with each team playing three games in a day. Bus transportation issues have tightened the boys’ and girls’ hockey seasons. The two tournaments will determine the regular-season standings and the early playoff matchups.
Some schools have started fitness training and skill development for wrestling, but are waiting for more instructions from Ottawa Public Health about starting a season.
Three city curling clubs are pitching in to help the NCSSAA present a curling season, after the 10 sheets at the Nepean Sportsplex have been converted into an OPH vaccine injection site. The Sportsplex has been the home for NCSSAA curling for many years.
The Huntley, Rideau and Carleton Heights curling clubs have offered the NCSSAA ice time during the week to play out their season with a reduced number of school teams.
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 email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.