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B.C. School Sports issues return plan, highlights limitations imposed by Ministry of Education

South Kamloops secondary athletics director Corey Yamaoka reacts
South Kamloops Titans
The South Kamloops Titans' football squad is among teams that may not see game action during this school year.

On Sept. 10, B.C. School Sports is moving into Stage 2 of its Return to School Sport Plan, revealing details in a document that seems to take issue with limitations imposed by the Ministry of Education and its Restart Education Plan.

“We understand the frustration felt by many that club/community sport is progressing to competition and we in school sport are lagging so far behind,” reads an excerpt from the BCSS plan, formed amid the pandemic. “We have continually made this argument to those involved in decision-making.”

On Aug. 24, viaSport, the B.C. government’s delivery agency for sport, entered Phase 3 of its Return to Sport Guidelines, which allow for modified games and matches, along with league play and competition within cohorts.

In Stage 2 of the BCSS plan, no inter-school competition is permitted and, in most cases, it will not be possible to hold regular team practices, as educational cohorts must not mingle. Intra-school games do not seem likely to take place in Stage 2.

“Cohorts are not permitted to compete against one another unless in a sport that allows for social distancing to be maintained,” notes the BCSS plan. “However, creative activities to support participation and healthy competition are encouraged within an educational cohort.”

BCSS published a note on its website on the page that links to the plan.

“In this stage [Stage 2], school-sport activities are permitted, but limited to students in the same educational learning group/cohort,” the note reads. “We are the first to admit that in most of our sports this will restrict basic team practices in most schools. We are hearing the frustration and concern from every corner of the province regarding the discrepancy between those in the club/community setting and those in school sport and the potential for long term damage to school sport. We will continue to share these concerns with our partners in government as we explore every option for expanding school sport at the appropriate time.”

Corey Yamaoka, athletics director at South Kamloops secondary, was asked if he is in favour of school sports guidelines being in line with viaSport’s current stage.

“I think that’s what we all want, but we are bound by the Ministry of Education,” Yamaoka said. “They are in the best interest of what’s happening in the province. They have to keep the schools safe and that might be one way, keeping us in Stage 2. If everyone adheres to what’s going on, maybe we might be in Stage 3 sooner. Or if things get worse, maybe will be back to Stage 1. Who knows?”

Yamaoka and his peers are left to interpret the complicated Stage 2 plan, surely scratching heads while beginning to devise practical application, which will take unity between BCSS, the Ministry of Education, school districts, principals and athletics directors.

“This isn’t going to be something that’s going to take half a day to figure out and we’re miraculously getting back to sports on the 10th,” Yamaoka said. “That isn’t going to happen. Practices are not going to be normal. That will possibly be worked out at the district and school levels and then we’ll figure out how each team is going to do that. It’s going to be complicated. We need to get back to school first and see what that looks like.”

Stage 3 of the BCSS plan allows for inter-school activities with modifications and restrictions and Stage 4 is normalized school sport.

In its plan, BCSS reveals suggested sport group classifications that could exist in Stage 2, noting the proposed concepts are ready for Ministry review.

“BCSS is working hard to obtain permission from the Ministry of Education to move to this stage,” reads an excerpt from the plan. “We are hopeful we will be able to introduce some inter-school competition, with varying levels of restrictions.”