After months of uncertainty surrounding team sports, Airdrie’s ringette players have kicked off the 2020-21 season.
The ringette season began Oct. 14, according to Liz Kusler, Airdrie Ringette Association’s (ARA) public relations representative. She said most ARA teams – all of which are called the Sting – have since played their first competitive games.
“Speaking as a coach, the level of play I’ve seen has just accelerated,” she said. “I think these kids are just so excited to be out there.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Kusler said ARA actually increased its number of athletes this season thanks to a decreased registration fee and extended payment plan. She said the association has 17 teams ranging in age from U6 (active start) to U19.
“We have more than 200 kids, which we’ve never had before,” she said, adding ARA would have approximately 180 players and 14 or 15 teams in a typical season.
The 2020-21 season will come with many new health and safety protocols for Sting players to abide by, Kusler said. Arenas have limited capacities for practices and games, and teams have been capped at 16 people, including players and coaches.
“For our teams, I know we personally, as coaches, need to be masked up for practices and games,” she said. “We’re pretty limited in terms of team building – no sleepovers, and little restrictions that way – but it’s mostly the games that are different.”
With ARA squads in U12 and older competing in Calgary-based leagues, Kusler said teams have to abide by whatever protocols have been established in Calgary’s arenas. Capacity rules vary depending on which rink teams are playing at.
“Some of them don’t allow spectators at all, so that’s a bit of a difference,” she said.
To comply with Alberta Health Services' 50-person cohort rule, teams will play against two other opponents for two weeks, then have a two-week break from games before taking on two other opponents in a similar series.
One disappointment for ARA this season is the cancellation of tournaments, including the association’s annual Ring of Fire, which sees dozens of youth ringette teams from across Alberta travel to Airdrie.
The Ring of Fire tournament is held every November during the Remembrance Day weekend. Last year’s tournament featured more than 600 players from 49 teams for the U12, U14 and U16 age groups.
According to Kusler, Ring of Fire is an important financial driver for ARA, typically raising more than $20,000 a year. The tournament has grown to a point where a second Ring of Fire, featuring younger age groups, takes place in March.
“It is a revenue source for ARA, but it’s also a very big tournament,” she said. “There are a lot of teams and that’s why it’s split into two tournaments. They’re both very busy. It’s just disappointing for the girls, and it’s disappointing for the organizers and the board. But it’s obviously not exclusive to us – there are no tournaments at all in Alberta.”
Even with the restrictions in place, Kusler said players and coaches have just been excited for the opportunity to be back on the ice.
“I’m just really glad the kids are back this year,” she said. “We were worried as a board this year they might either be anxious about coming back or…maybe being able to afford to play. That really worried us because the one thing you really want is for these kids to be able to participate because we think this sport is amazing.”