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Football season disrupted by COVID-19

Airdrie's football teams continue to face several unknowns and questions remain as to whether they will be able to get on the gridiron this season.

The Airdrie Irish, an amateur men’s team in the Alberta Football League (AFL), would have typically started its season in early May. However, due to COVID-19, the league wasn’t able to kick off as planned.

According to player James Balsdon, the team’s representative on the AFL board, the league still hasn’t officially called off the season, but the chance of play occurring seems less and less likely as time goes.

“We have a couple of calls tonight to talk about some stuff and see if there are any loopholes so we can still have a season, but we already had one team drop out because of financials and the practicality of everything,” he said, adding a poll among league members has shown they favour cancelling the season.

“Teams out in Ontario – the conference out there – already cancelled their season, so even if we have a season, there wouldn’t be a national game at the end of it,” Balsdon said.

With team practices banned, Balsdon said, Irish players have been mostly training on their own this spring to keep in shape.

Not getting to play this summer would be disappointing, he said, given the Irish had recruited talented new players this year including quarterback Josh Williams, a former Simon Fraser University recruit who recently moved to Airdrie from Edmonton.

“I was actually super excited about this year,” Balsdon said. 

“We’ve had some players roll in – a bunch of new guys and faces who want to help the team succeed, which was really nice to see.”

Last year, player commitment was the Irish’s main struggle – particularly on lengthy road trips to Cold Lake and Fort McMurray. With a thin roster for most games, the Irish went 0-9, recording its first winless season since joining the AFL in 2015.

Another team that saw its season cancelled was the Airdrie Raiders midget team, who compete in the Calgary Spring Football Association (CSFA) – a competitive, tackle football league for teams in Calgary and area. The Raiders feature players from Airdrie, Cochrane and surrounding communities in Grades 9 to 11.

According to head coach Steve Kemp, the cancellation of sports due to COVID-19 in March occurred right before the Raiders were set to start outdoor practice sessions.

“At the time, everyone was thinking it would be for a couple weeks and then we’d be back at it,” he said. “As time went on and things progressed, they officially cancelled the season, because they don’t think they can squeeze it in.”

The cancellation was a particular blow for the Raiders’ Grade 11 players, Kemp said. Not only would the 2020 season have provided them a swan song for their midget careers, but also an opportunity to catch the eye of scouts from junior and university football programs.

“A lot of kids in Airdrie, you want them to have an opportunity to show what they can do,” Kemp said. “A lot of them are pursuing football at the next level, so they need that [opportunity].”

According to a May 17 Facebook post by Football Alberta, the organization had submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Culture, Multi-Culturalism and Status of Women’s sport and recreation division on what a modified return to play could look like in 2020. According to the statement, the proposal “involves many stages of return which would include limited cohorts of gatherings and contact” at the start.

“We expect there to be a lot of give and take in this proposal before it gets approved, eventually, at the Alberta Health Services level. [We] have no timeline of expectation as to when we might be allowed back on field,” the post stated.

“It would be our preference to have some activity started in the late summer or early fall, but again, that is totally in the hands of the government departments responsible for re-opening Alberta.”

Scott Strasser,
Follow me on Twitter @scottstrasser19