By RYAN MCCRACKEN on October 20, 2020.
The Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference is exploring every option it can to bring competition back to schools before the end of the winter semester.
The ACAC held a special general meeting Thursday, which coincided with the release of new provincial guidelines for junior collegiate and university leagues. Medicine Hat College Rattlers manager of sport and wellness Terry Ballard says there’s no specific date in mind for a start of competition as of yet, given the new guidelines were only just released, however the ACAC and its members are confident student athletes will be able to experience some competition in the near future.
“That is the hope,” said Ballard. “A lot has to go right still, let’s not kid ourselves, but we’re going to exhaust every avenue we can and hopefully we can give the student-athletes an experience that will at least be somewhat similar to normal in winter. But again, there’s still a lot that has to work right and work in our favour.”
The new provincial guidelines allow for league cohorts of up to 150 participants – which would include players and coaches, as well as instructors, staff, officials and volunteers who routinely interact with the team at a distance of two metres or less. Those who aren’t routinely in contact can be excluded from the 150 if they wear a mask and keep interactions as short as possible. Leagues are permitted to operate with multiple cohorts, as long as the number of participants in each does not exceed 150.
The guidelines also strongly recommend all participants obtain a COVID test result, using private testing, 24-48 hours before entering a league cohort.
As for changing or shuffling cohorts, which would likely be necessary to allow for full conference play in most ACAC sports, the guidelines present options to either pause the league for seven days before cohorts reset or obtain negative test results for all cohort members within 24 hours of any new cohort interaction. The guidelines also include more information for leagues, teams, players and participants, response plans, facilities, equipment and travel. The full list of guidelines can be found at alberta.ca/guidance-documents.aspx.
“It’s just important to know that we’re trying to give the student athletes a good experience,” said Ballard. “But again it’s very important for people to remember that local community guidelines are most important, AHS guidelines are most important, and each institution has their own senior leadership and their thoughts and their feelings about safety and so on. Those are things we have to always consider.”
The ACAC has also made the decision to withdraw from Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association national championships in 2021, something Ballard says was likely inevitable one way or another, but could ultimately allow for a longer ACAC season.
“It was a very difficult decision but at the same time, I think folks maybe saw that coming as well because of cross-border travel, getting on planes, different health restrictions in different communities,” said Ballard. “I think that was probably going to happen at some point and we just wanted to be leaders, at the same time put our ducks in a row so we can maybe extend our season. Instead of planning to stop before a national championship, now we can go a little bit longer.”
Ballard added the plan is still to crown ACAC champions in each sport, however everything is subject to how the pandemic plays out.
“Right now (ACAC championships (are) still in the schedule, even though there’s really not a schedule yet,” he said. “They may stay, they may come off the table, it’s still to be determined.”
For the time being, Rattlers athletes may not be competing but Ballard says they’re still hard at work, practising on a regular schedule and following all the school’s COVID guidelines to boot.
“Teams are regularly practicing in the gymnasium, we have some pretty strict protocols in place. They’re accessing our fitness centre and that’s going very well,” he said. “They are booking times to work out, everything is well cleaned. I have to give the student athletes and coaches a lot of credit, they’re following protocols to a T and things are working out well so far.”