Airdrie’s high school athletes in sports such as football, volleyball, golf, cross-country running and girls’ soccer were left without a season this fall. While school teams were allowed to practise, inter-school competition was cancelled to help limit interactions between students.
Typically, November would be the month when fall sports wrap up and tryouts and practices would begin for winter sports, including basketball and wrestling.
“It’s been a challenge all around,” said Andrew Kirk, a teacher at Bert Church High School who coaches the Chargers’ girls’ soccer and basketball teams. “As a parent with a kid who likes and is highly involved with sports, it’s been a challenge, too. We all miss it – the coaching aspect, kids competing and parents watching their kids play and everything. That’s obviously all taken a back seat to try to manage what’s going on.”
Kirk’s daughter, Ainsley, is a multi-sport athlete who competes for the Chargers in basketball, soccer, volleyball, badminton and track and field. While the Grade 10 student plays competitive soccer and basketball outside of school, she said she enjoys suiting up for Bert Church’s sports teams alongside her classmates.
“I really like the social side of it – being able to have players from different grades and classes all together on one team,” she said. “I like going to tournaments with your team. It’s a fun way to get out of school with your friends.”
Ainsley added she and her classmates were disappointed to lose the opportunity to play for the Chargers this fall.
“It’s been a little bit difficult,” she said. “Some days, after school and stuff, you’re excited to go play basketball after, so you’re pushing to get through the day.”
Another Airdrie high school athlete affected by the cancelled season is Michael Schaan, a Grade 12 member of the George McDougall Mustangs football team. Though the Mustangs were still able to practise and compete among themselves, Schaan said he and his teammates were disappointed they didn’t have the opportunity to take on any of their local rivals this fall.
“We were holding out hope for it and it was disappointing to find out there was not going to be a season,” he said. “It was a little heartbreaking, but we’re holding out hope for the spring, that there will be a season.”
The lack of competitive football this fall was even more upsetting for Schaan, who also lost the entirety of his Grade 11 season after suffering two serious injuries. Following two surgeries and nearly a year of rehabilitation and physiotherapy, he said he was excited to finally return to the field.
Losing his senior football season was also a blow for Schaan, as it meant he missed out on opportunities to be scouted by post-secondary and junior football coaches. He said he will have to rely on footage from his Grade 10 season to prove to coaches he is ready to play football at the next level.
“We got some footage from our inter-squad scrimmage, which is helpful, but that’s just with your team,” he said. “You can’t compare it to different levels of competition from other teams.”
As COVID-19 cases continue to spike throughout Alberta, the possibility of Airdrie’s student-athletes partaking in a winter sports season is also looking increasingly unlikely.
The Alberta Schools Athletic Association (ASAA), the governing body for inter-school sport in the province, released a memo Nov. 20 that outlined when provincial championships would be held for the winter and spring seasons. However, the memo stressed the schedule was a "what if" scenario and that inter-school competition would only be allowed if pandemic-related restrictions are reduced at some point in the new year.
“As of November 20…COVID-19 cases in Alberta are soaring and related Government of Alberta restrictions are increasing,” the memo stated. “Should there be no improvement to the current number of positive COVID-19 cases and corresponding relaxation of government restrictions, the following information regarding seasons of play and proposed championship dates will be modified to reflect that. This means that events in the new schedule may be further postponed or cancelled.”
The memo went on to state the Alberta government and school jurisdictions would make the final decision regarding school sports this winter.
“As always, ASAA shares the belief [and] understanding with Alberta Health Services and the Government of Alberta that the health and safety of all student-athletes, managers, trainers and coaches involved in high school athletics must be the number one priority,” it stated. “The ASAA agrees with and supports all COVID-19 measures that are in place.”