HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
The headline on the Ontario Volleyball Association website was big, bold and blaring good news for the province’s competition-starved players. It even had an over-the-top exclamation point to emphasize the positive – Tournament Play is Back!
Well, it was good news, until the COVID-19 pandemic’s Omicron variant put down its spikes and punctured all the balls.
Ottawa’s EY Centre was scheduled to be the site of two weekends of convention-centre-style volleyball tournaments in the first half of January for 242 teams from across the province. The OVA’s other three-day tournament weekend is scheduled for Jan. 28-30 at the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls.
The arrival of the pandemic’s worst variant, Omicron, and the dramatic increase in the number of positive cases became so bad the Ontario government on Jan. 3 moved back to Step Two of its Roadmap to Reopen. Many measures were reintroduced, including closing all indoor sport and recreational venues for at least 21 days.
The provincial measures also forced many sports competitions to be cancelled or postponed, including the two weekends of volleyball tournaments at the EY Centre.
“It’s disappointing,” said Kerry MacLean, the founder and president of the Maverick Volleyball Club, which would have been responsible for setting up and taking down the 12 portable nets for the 37 one-day tournaments over six days. “We had two competitions before Christmas and the season was getting going.
“I’m not an expert on what would be best for the health of our athletes and parents, but we have a COVID oversight committee and it advises the parents. Our switchboard lit up just before Christmas. The number of positives and players exposed (to COVID at school) were two to three for each team. They had to isolate.
“That was a warning sign. Everything shut over Christmas. I got a call from an event with an exposure. It turned out I was negative, but it did disrupt our Christmas time as I had to isolate.”
The opening tournament at the EY Centre was scheduled for last weekend, when 89 girls’ teams would have played in 10 different tournaments and 30 boys’ teams were slotted into three classes. They would have been competing for the TNS (Traditional Non Specific) Boys’ Challenge Cup and the 15U Girls’ Challenge Cup.
This coming weekend, 88 girls’ teams would have been getting some much-needed competition in the TNS Girls’ Challenge, while there would have been 35 teams for the 15U Boys’ Challenge Cup.
The Maverick Volleyball Club would have had a total of seven teams competing over the two weekends, while Ottawa Fusion Volleyball Club had three entries.
The cancellation of the back-to-back tournament weekends in Ottawa – which would have been a luxury for National Capital teams which spend most of their seasons travelling to the GTA and Southern Ontario – also eliminated a fund-raising event for the Maverick program.
The OVA contracted the Maverick program for the girls and boys’ U17 and U18 teams to set up and take down the dozen portable nets for the six days of tournament play. The four Maverick teams would have raised a significant amount of money, helping to pay for their coaches’ airfare to the 2022 Canadian championships in Edmonton and reduce the shared cost to the parents.
“There were so many good things that were going to happen (by staging the tournaments),” MacLean added. “We’d also have exposure for the game. Now, it’s on a wish list for the future.”
MacLean hopes the convention-centre-style tournament could become an annual event in Ottawa.
“This was for me a beacon,” he said. “I’ve lobbied the OVA about the amount of travel our teams do. The OVA was doing this because it got a real deal (at the EY Centre).
“This has them thinking about altering their game plan. Maybe this will become an annual event around Christmas.”
Meanwhile, the Maverick volleyball teams, like other youth volleyball and basketball teams in the city, continue to wait for a return to rent and play in elementary and high school gymnasiums. The city’s four school boards have banned all community teams from using their gyms during the pandemic, forcing clubs to find limited private locations.
While training has been allowed, the Maverick program has rented private courts at the Rideau Sports Centre, La Cité collégiale, Nepean Sportsplex and St-Laurent Academy, but at a significantly higher price than school courts.
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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