April 25th, 2024

Hullabaloo over fate of Saskatchewan Hoopla basketball tournament overshadows budget

By Jeremy Simes, The Canadian Press on March 19, 2024.

Saskatchewan Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill speaks to members of the media after the speech from the throne is delivered in Regina, on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023. As the Saskatchewan government releases it's 2024 budget Wednesday, all eyes will be on the fate of the province's biggest amateur sporting event. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Heywood Yu

REGINA – The Saskatchewan government is set to release its 2024 budget Wednesday, a day expected to be overshadowed by teacher protests and heightened hullabaloo over the fate of Hoopla.

Hoopla, the provincial high school basketball championship tournament, is one of Saskatchewan’s signature sports events, drawing hundreds of students and thousands of fans every year.

Teachers are the backbone of Hoopla – coaching, organizing and volunteering – but this year they’ve announced they are opting out to up the ante in an escalating labour dispute with the province.

Saskatchewan Finance Minister Donna Harpauer is to deliver the budget in the afternoon, around the same time tournament organizers have to decide if it’s a go or no-go to start on Thursday.

Hanging in the balance are dreams of student athletes, along with packed hotel rooms and big business for the host city of Moose Jaw.

On Tuesday, students rallied in Regina and Saskatoon calling on both sides to save Hoopla.

Jennifer Lindgren, a senior girls basketball coach, stood with players outside the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation office in Saskatoon.

“We’re just trying to take a stand for our kids, and we want to make it clear that we support teachers and students,” Lindgren said in an interview.

“We want both sides to come to the table and come up with an agreement. We want to see our kids not used as pawns in this political battle.”

Lindgren isn’t a teacher but is a community coach with the team in Norquay, a town in east-central Saskatchewan.

A senior high school basketball team in Preeceville, a town near Norquay, qualified to play in Hoopla for the first time in 27 years, Lindgren added.

“Hoopla is more than just about the game of basketball. It’s about building confidence, resiliency, and mental strength throughout the year,” she said.

Hoopla tournament committee chair Roger Morgan said 48 teams with more than 700 athletes participate in Hoopla each year, and this year about 3,000 people were expected to descend on Moose Jaw, west of Regina.

“It’s become a showcase that’s much more than just a regular basketball tournament,” Morgan said in an interview.

“Some schools have regular attendance at Hoopla every year, but some only get this opportunity every 25 years.”

Morgan said he wants both sides to sit down and talk about issues in the classroom.

“Let’s make a concerted effort to repair a decade of funding cuts. That’s the springboard for everything, where everything can go back to normal and people can go back to supporting events,” he said.

“Athletes put hundreds and hundreds of volunteer time in and just want to culminate their season.”

The Saskatchewan High Schools Athletic Association said it would be extremely disappointing if both sides can’t come together.

“The negative economic impact will be vast,” the association said Monday on the social media platform X, previously known as Twitter.

The dispute between the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation and the province has hit the ditch over whether issues like classroom sizes and other supports should be in the contract.

The teachers want them in; the province does not.

Last week, the province declined to have those issues resolved through arbitration, prompting teachers to announce a provincewide walkout with protest demonstrations Wednesday and no participation in extracurricular activities Thursday and Friday.

No extracurricular means no Hoopla and likely no Optimist Band Festival for music students in Regina.

Premier Scott Moe’s government has pledged to spend more on education and has signed an agreement with school boards to allocate the additional dollars.

Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill has blamed the teachers’ union for putting Hoopla at risk.

Teachers, however, say the province’s unwillingness to go into binding arbitration forced the job action.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 19, 2024.

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