Athletes in Kamloops and across the country are bracing for a raw deal, with the novel coronavirus expected to do a number on high school sports in the fall and perhaps beyond.
Tavish Comrie of the South Kamloops Titans is among them, a basketball, soccer and ultimate player who is resigned to the unknown.
“For the football players, the fall season is really looking unlikely,” said Comrie, who turns 17 in September and is entering Grade 12. “The rest of us are slightly optimistic we’ll get to play, but I doubt there’s any way we’ll have provincials. I know a lot of the fall athletes are bummed out.”
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Education Minister Rob Fleming unveiled B.C.’s return-to-school plan last week. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control followed with an 18-page report.
An excerpt from the report: “Inter-school events, including competitions, tournaments and festivals, should not occur at this time. This will be re-evaluated in mid-fall 2020.”
Henry, when asked if inter-school games are a no-go for the fall, replied, ‘Essentially, yes. We will be looking at ways — like we’re doing through the summer where local teams can play each other in a certain way, but there will be no tournaments, there will be no assemblies, there will be no large group gatherings where people from outside areas would be coming together.”
Titans’ athletics director Corey Yamaoka said his peers are waiting for guidelines from B.C. School Sports before jumping to conclusions.
“The announcement by the province was sort of disheartening, but was somewhat expected,” Yamaoka said. “Once B.C. School Sports comes out with an announcement, that will sort of get things in place. It’s all just sort of up in the air right now until we hear from them.”
BCSS return-to-play plans are likely to be released in early August.
Cross-country running, aquatics, volleyball, field hockey, football and boys’ soccer are among fall high school sports.
Henry did not rule out intra-city play, a cohort model that could make room for some sort of competitive action between nearby schools, but traditional leagues and game play, especially in contact sports, seem a long way off.
“There have been some rumblings about allowing certain sports, like cross-country, to go ahead, which would be good, but it’s going to be tough all-around,” Yamaoka said.
“Football, same thing. I’ve heard rumblings that there could be seven-man, nine-man type stuff, but there is still contact involved, so I don’t know how it’s going to work.”
Senior athletes who planned to play their way onto junior teams or impress university coaches and chase scholarships in their Grade 12 years are particularly unfortunate.
“It will affect quite a few of them,” Yamaoka said. “Sometimes, they don’t get the opportunity to show themselves in Grade 11. Their coming-out year is the Grade 12 year. I can see that with a few people at our school who have the potential of getting scholarships, but if they’re not playing this year, it’s going be tough.”
Pat Hennelly is the head coach of the TRU WolfPack men’s volleyball team, which toils in U Sports, the top level of university sports in the country.
“We have to be aware these kids have missed a club season and now, potentially, a high-school season,” Hennelly said. “The skill level is going to be down and we’re still going to be making decisions. That might potentially hurt the Kamloops kids. It’s tough on us to evaluate kids who don’t come from traditional powerhouses, understanding that these guys lost a season of development.”
Hennelly is encouraging high school athletes to be aggressive in reaching out to post-secondary coaches, spurring them to send film and introductory emails.
“I’ve come into a gym a year later and been shocked at how some guys look and I’ve been doing this a long time. That’s also what kids are going to miss,” Hennelly said. “You might have remembered a kid last high school season, but he’s going to have a whole different body.
“I do not think high school volleyball will be going. They do not want people face to face at the net. If we can get through flu season and see what happens, there’s a chance for a club season, but I don’t see fall sports rolling out in high school unless something dramatically changes.”
Club and community association sports are awaiting viaSport’s (the government agency for the delivery of sport) decision to move into Phase 3 of its return-to-play plan, which could allow for inter-city play between small groups of rival associations and the introduction of small group contact skills.
High school sports athletes are in the same boat as their athletics directors, awaiting instruction from B.C. School Sports.
“There’s a way to offer some of our sports safely,” BCSS executive director Jordan Abney told the Province, noting small, regional competitions are a possibility.
But B.C. High School Championships are a no-go for the foreseeable future, a sad reality for athletes such as Comrie, who spent four years working toward a senior season only to have it sideswiped.
“A lot of my soccer friends are really disappointed because this is going to be our year,” Comrie said.
“Last year, we got sixth at provincials with a mostly Grade 11 team. You just have to take what you’re given. I don’t know many people that have been affected that negatively from it [the virus]. Obviously, you want to play sports and it sucks, but it could have been worse.”