Hometown Heroes: Celebrating the Special People who Drive our Local Sports Community
By City of Ottawa Sports Commissioner Mathieu Fleury
For many high school students, playing sports is part of their academia. It is more than a way to stay active. It is about comradery, learning to win or lose and how to play the game.
And many of us can say it shapes the adults we become. Even if many of us do not continue to play at higher level, as we move on to post-secondary education, it is a time that we look back and remember the bus ride to the big game. The student body cheers you on as you play. The fact that you almost won but came in second (or third), and the grit and grace you showed despite losing turns out to be the better story.
That is why the last three years have been so hard for so many.
As a worldwide pandemic transcended us, schools were locked and shifted online. Everyone was forced to go home to stay safe and wait out the terrifying unknowns of COVID-19 in those early days.
Those days turned to weeks; those weeks turned to months. And then a year.
It impacted everyone in their way, but it was incredibly difficult for high school students who thrived on their social interactions, including sports.
Steve Smith, from the National Capital Secondary Schools Athletic Association (NCSSAA), said the closures were unbearably hard. The uncertainty, he added, was the worst of it.
“We believe that sports are of the utmost importance to many students. It keeps them fit, teaches them to work as a team and discipline,” Smith said.
The NCSSAA is responsible for all high school sports in Ottawa. There are 64 schools in the association, from the OCDSB, OCSB, CEPEO, CECCE and several independent schools. They run basketball, volleyball, soccer, field hockey, football, golf, tennis, cross country running, rugby, non-contact hockey, swimming, curling, hockey, alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, wrestling, badminton, baseball, lacrosse and track & field.
All the leagues were put on hold and eventually cancelled when the pandemic hit. For the 2020-2021 school year, no sports took place.
To maintain interest in sport, the association hosted webinars and coaching series.
Last year, some sports resumed, but with strict protocols to maintain distance and safety. Many modifications impacted how to play and how teams were transported and practiced.
Additionally, certain school boards, Smith said, were more hesitant than others about how to play – which impacted the number of teams or competition in the early days of return-to-play.
But now, after two years, the association is happy to say they are back.
Back to pre-pandemic rules. Back to play. The way we know it.
“There were some lessons learned regarding how we organize and run our leagues. The change that has really created an issue for sports at the high school level is transportation,” Smith said.
A return to play, Smith added, leaves a need that any former high school sports team player could help solve.
“Many of our leagues are very short on referees/game officials. Volunteers for our big events are always needed,” Smith said. “We are hosting two major events in Ottawa this year that we could use volunteers and support.”
According to the association, these events will bring 2,500-3,000 people into the city. OFSAA Wrestling will occur at TD Place on March 7-8, and OFSAA Track will occur at Terry Fox Athletic Facility on June 8-10.
Both events will bring our city the best high school athletes from all over the province. If you would like more information on how to volunteer, please visit https://sites.google.com/ocdsb.ca/ncssaa/home