Organizers hold out hope for high school athletics this fall
LONDON, ONT -- Football fields and gymnasiums will be empty when high school begins September 14. However, the hope is they won't be vacant for long.
"Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) is committed to running some form of extra-curricular sports after we've seen what September looks like," says Michelle Lange, athletics coordinator for Thames Valley Regional Athletics (TVRA).
While only one other school board in the province is going ahead with athletics this fall, Lange has been working with South Collegiate Institute athletic director Mike Stenning to provide some form of high school sports in 2020.
And while it's still too early to say anything definitive, the hope is that by October, sports which have built-in physical distancing like cross country, golf, soccer and baseball could start up.
"We are committed to looking at running modified sports schedule," says Lange. "We'd have smaller leagues, smaller schedules, and potentially moving sports around. Football could move to the spring, girls basketball might be closer to Christmas. We are by no means giving up idea that we can provide extra-curricular activities for our students."
That statement is welcome news to fifth-year, multi-sport athlete Jacob Saunders. "It means a lot because athletics are a big part of my life," says Saunders, who is the quarterback for the South Lions football team.
"It's what motivates me and makes me happy and keeps me coming to school."
Stenning and Lange have been looking at other school boards across North America to see and compare what they are doing. "We didn't want to be cancel culture," says Stenning, who is also South's football and hockey coach.
"It just shuts hope down for kids. We wanted to let people know it may be different, but we are trying."
At this point there is so many variables and a revolving rotation of rules and regulations. However Stenning understands how much athletics mean to his students.
"We are trying to have that bit where kids are held accountable by teachers and coaches," says Stenning. "It gives them that extra incentive to come to school every day. If we can keep our kids and coaches safe, we want to provide opportunities. We understand that it may not be every school as some coaches and principals may not be comfortable."
They plan to meet with the TVRA advisory council in the next couple of weeks to hammer out a potential plan for the school year.
OFSAA has cancelled all of its fall tournaments, and that has already had an impact on London who was scheduled to host seven OFSAA events during this school year. The largest was the triple volleyball event hosting single-A, double-A and triple-A all in the Forest City. It would have brought over 1,000 people to London in March.
Lange has been told if it doesn't go, they will lose their spot in a rotation rather than have it pushed to next year. "It is my sincere hope that we can host that," she says.
Even if it doesn't happen, she still is pouring her time into making sure there are some form of sports in 2020-2021.
"I overall am very optimistic about what we can provide here," says Lange.