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Georgina scraps summer camps but house league sports gear up for safe pandemic play

‘Physiological effect of the pandemic a far greater threat for kids’: sports organizations waiting for green light to play
April 6, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we play sports -- no headers in soccer, no faceoffs in a two-period hockey game and umpiring from behind the pitcher in baseball.

Recently, Georgina announced it was suspending summer camps as recreation staff were deployed to support the COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Georgina Ice Palace.

But the town affirmed its plans to open fields and pitches with limitations this summer depending on provincial guidelines.

Once given then green light, local clubs are ready to play, anticipating a June or later start, using the many lessons learned last year.

“Once we get the OK, we can mobilize quickly,” said Andy Aitchison, president of the Lake Simcoe Soccer Club. “Our house league plans are ready. We’re doing everything we can to make families and players feel comfortable returning to play.”

After cancelled sports seasons last summer, getting kids back playing sports safely is a top priority.

“It’s important kids get something back,” said Doug Waldron, Georgina Minor Baseball Association president. “The physiological effect of the pandemic is a far greater threat for kids.”

“To be part of something, part of a team is so important for a child’s well-being,” added Sean Whittaker, Georgina Minor Hockey president. “Kids need an outlet.”

With all the stops and starts, refunds and credits, and hesitancy about the ongoing pandemic, there is concern players will not return.

To obtain approval from the town, each sports club needs to have specific safety protocols in place, from contact tracing to limiting the number of players on the pitch.

The game will be different -- limited number of players per team; limited number of teams in a loop; and coaches, referees, umpires and certain positions required to wear a mask.

Cancelling the season and refunding players en mass took a financial toll on many sports organizations. To help with climbing costs, clubs are utilizing unused uniforms from last year, so they don’t have to solicit sponsorship from businesses already hurting from recent pandemic shutdowns.

Some are offering pay-as-you-play or staggered payment structures that are “more palpable to parents,” Aitchison said.

Not only are sports organizations at the mercy of the town when it comes to opening fields, but they must also follow rules and protocols set out by regional and provincial sports umbrella organizations.

Clubs are hoping for more guidelines from umbrella organizations when it comes to rep teams and travel logistics between different public health zones.

Georgina Minor Baseball, along with other baseball clubs in York Region, belongs to the York-Simcoe Baseball Association -- two different public health zones each at different COVID-19 colour-coded stages and at different times.

“There needs to be some kind of approval beyond the colour-coded system,” Waldron added. “If it’s just based on the colour-code system, it might not work.”

It’s not only about location, but also if different teams in the same public health area can play against each other.

Last year’s rep hockey season was interrupted several times depending on where York Region was on the colour-code framework -- games could be played during the orange stage, only practices were allowed in red, and there was complete shutdown in grey.

Another challenge is how to limit the number of spectators, including allowing only one parent per child on the field and the number of parents in a 50-person or four-team sports bubble.

“In hockey, it’s a bit easier,” Waldron said. “It’s a building. You can limit people coming in. How do you do that outdoors?”

Recruiting coaches is always a challenge. This year might prove difficult with many hesitant about protocols and liabilities.

The province recently enacted the Supporting Ontario’s Recovery Act offering volunteers a level of civil liability protection as it relates to COVID-19 transmission.

Georgina Minor Hockey is planning for a full start in the fall with various blueprint plans based on how many skaters are allowed on the ice and accounting for the region’s vaccine rollout.