By RYAN MCCRACKEN on August 19, 2020.
Competition will have to wait, but student-athletes at Hat High and Crescent Heights will be able to return to the gridiron for football practices as of Sept. 1.
Medicine Hat Public School Division superintendent Mark Davidson says he spoke with coaches from schools across the district Monday, and outlined three main goals for in-school athletics as the 2020-21 season approaches.
“One was to make sure we meet the expectations set down by the medical officer of health and (Alberta Schools Athletic Association) – to make sure we do everything we can to do this safely,” said Davidson. “Second is to make sure we do our best to make sure that students – if they’re involved in a cohort playing only within a school – that they still feel like it’s a valuable, engaging and exciting experience, so that it’s worthwhile to them. And then finally, to get ready for play in the event that our region is permitted to play based on the COVID numbers.”
The ASAA opted to postpone all of its fall provincial championships until Stage 3 of the Alberta government’s relaunch strategy last Thursday, adding member schools can still hold in-school practices. Although the release stated scrimmages and competition between schools will not be permitted at this time, Davidson says he is hopeful scrimmages will be allowed in the near future.
“We don’t expect that if they’re going to permit practice, that they would limit the ability for a group to play nine-man football, for example, within the team. But we’re still waiting to see what the final direction is,” he said. “We expect that we’ll receive greater detail as we get closer to the beginning of September.”
As it stands, any students wishing to participate in an in-school sport will not be permitted to take part in any sports off campus – such as hockey.
“Really, what they’re allowed is very limited practice within a cohort,” said Davidson. “They’re not permitted to play or practice with students from any other school, and students who are on that team can’t be part of any other athletic cohort, so they can’t play a community sport and also be involved in the in-house practices for basketball or volleyball or any other ASAA-sanctioned sport.”
It’ll provide a challenge for teams across the city – both in the school and in the community – but Davidson points out it’s not the only obstacle. Teams will face stricter cleaning guidelines than in the past, cohort numbers will be restricted to 50 people and efforts must be made to limit contact between individuals.
“There’s so much there about cleaning and sanitizing equipment, stopping practice in order to do those things and then return to practice, the extent to which you try to limit contact – which in a sport like football is challenging,” said Davidson. “I think the greatest challenge for football is the limitation on the size of the cohort. Both of our larger schools, they would have 70-plus people on the field between coaches and players, so that’s something they’ll really have to be mindful of when they create their cohort at the school. Even if you were big enough to create two cohorts within a school, coaches can’t move between those cohorts, nor can students. They’ll have to be really mindful of how they set it up.”
Hat High Mohawks football head coach Quinn Skelton says he’s unsure of how the guidelines will impact this season’s roster size, but he sent out a message to his players Tuesday telling them to get ready for a Sept. 1 start.
“I am excited to get our fall camp going for the first few weeks,” Skelton said in a message to the News. “We are hopeful, our area is doing well with the numbers. Fingers crossed.”
Davidson added he plans on meeting with teams again once the ASAA releases its next set of directions.
“We’ll bring our occupational health and safety coordinator together with coaches, myself and maybe other members of my staff to talk about what the broad expectations are that we need to follow,” he said. “Then what are sport-specific challenges they might face, what supports they might require in order to make it work.”
The News reached out to Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education for comment but did not receive a response by press time.