HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
The National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association took a bold and calculated step in late February, but now it’s confidently sprinting towards the finish as the days count down on its innovative boys’ senior high school basketball pilot project.
The governing body for high school sports in Ottawa introduced a new concept for the presentation of its highest level of basketball and the early indications are it has been successful.
There has been parity among the teams in many of the games, every team will compete in some form of a playoff tournament and there will be seven city champions instead of the traditional OFSAA Division, Tier 1 and Tier 2 winners.
Even St. Mark and Brookfield, the bottom two teams in the mega-ranking list, felt like they were an important part of the championship format Wednesday, when they played in the Cookie Jar final. That was the rubber match for both schools as they each had a win and a loss against each other this season.
Despite being the visiting team, St. Mark defeated Brookfield 52-37, but there was no Cookie Jar trophy for the Lions’ players to hoist or even cookies inside a jar to toast the victory in a rare, meaningful match-up between cellar-dwelling teams.
Whenever Ginette Godmaire, a co-NCSSAA athletic co-ordinator along with Steve Smith, taught phys-ed at St. Peter and Immaculata, she would introduce a competitive moment and then say: “This is for all the cookies.”
“Instead of saying this is the Olympic trials, I used to say: ‘This is for all the cookies,’” explaining how she turned that teachable moment into a fun, relaxed title for the basketball championship game between two hard-working teams that didn’t quite achieve their intended goal.
At the start of the NCSSAA boys’ senior basketball season, 49 schools submitted their entries for the 2022 season, which was five less than the 2019-20 season. The COVID-19 pandemic cancelled the 2020-21 season.
The NCSSAA ranked and divided the schools into three East and three West divisions: East 1, East 2, East 3, West 1, West 2 and West 3. The East/West division was essentially the Tier 2 schools from two years ago. Each of the seven divisions had seven schools.
When a team submitted its entry, it let the NCSSAA know the strength of its team and what division might be suitable for it. The NCSSAA also looked at the 2019-20 boys’ junior records before ranking all the schools from first through 21st in the the East and West Divisions.
The top seven teams were placed in East 1 and West 1, eighth through 14th went into East 2 and West 2 and 15th through 21st were placed in East 3 and West 3. Each school played a six-game regular-season schedule, facing each other once.
Then, the NCSSAA introduced an Overlap segment, which is similar to the English Premier League format, where the bottom three soccer teams of that division dropped to the lower Championship Division and were replaced by the top three teams in the Championship division.
In NCSSAA’s case, the bottom two basketball teams of the East 1/West 1 Divisions were relegated to East 2/West 2, which sent its top two teams to the higher division. The last two teams in East 2/West 2 went to East 3/West 3, while the two best teams in the East 3/West 3 moved up to East 2/West 2. The East/West division teams played games within its grouping.
The NCSSAA again reseeded the schools first through 21st in the East and West Divisions. The schools were divided into three-team groups (i.e. first, second, third; fourth-fifth-sixth and so on down to 19th-20th-21st). The teams would play one home and one away game within that mini division. A pair of wins meant a team could move up and play in a higher division.
For example, Ashbury started the season in East 2 and was undefeated with a first-place record of 6-0. It was promoted to East 1, where it won both of its games against the fourth- and fifth-place East 1 teams – defeating Gisèle-Lalonde 69-45 and Louis-Riel 66-58. This allowed Ashbury to advance to Thursday’s quarterfinals of the top Diamond Division, where the Colts defeated unbeaten St. Pius X 71-53.
Ashbury will travel to West Carleton for its semifinal game in the elite division. West Carleton won its quarterfinal 73-67 over Lester B. Pearson, while Woodroffe upset St. Patrick’s 75-72 and Longfields-Davidson Heights defeated St. Peter 62-50. Woodroffe and Longfields-Davidson Heights will meet in the other semifinal.
As the playoffs unfold through April 14, champions will be decided in seven categories: Diamond, Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze, Copper and Brass. The Copper final goes Monday with Lisgar at Bell, after Lisgar defeated Omer-Deslauriers 73-70 and Bell turned back St. Laurent Academy 51-36. The Brass final will feature De La Salle at Pierre Savard.
Godmaire and Smith had talked about trying different approaches to running sports leagues with 30 teams or more to increase the element of parity and adding a chance for more teams to experience success.
“The scores of a lot of the games were within 10 points to one point of each other,” Godmaire said in a phone interview this week. “A few of the games have had a 15- to 20-point spread, but on the whole the games have been quite close. They are playing meaningful games. The feedback (from coaches) has been positive and they like the close matches.
“We were able to run (this pilot project) because we didn’t have the constraints of sending teams to OFSAA. We tried to give it a go and see what happens. We’ll see what the feedback is (at the end of the season). So far, it has been positive.”
The boys’ senior A, AA and AAA provincial high school tournaments were cancelled for 2022, when OFSSA decided not to stage its winter championships because of the pandemic.
“This pilot project will determine a true city champion,” she added.
If the NCSSAA decides to follow the same format for 2022-23 and if there are OFSAA championships, the association can easily determine teams for the three different tournaments.
The ladder format could also be used in the future for girls’ senior basketball as well as girls and boys’ soccer, volleyball and hockey because of the large number of participating schools.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 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.
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