Local youth sports blindsided by COVID-19

By Kirk Winter

Local youth sports blindsided by COVID-19

In Kawartha Lakes, May is recognized as the beginning of the summer sports season. Whether it is baseball, rugby, lacrosse or soccer normally youth sports across the city are in full swing with gyms, diamonds and fields filled with local children enjoying the sport of their choice. May of 2020 is very different, and some wonder if and when sports of any kind will return for local kids.

No sanctioned sport in Ontario operates without a governing body that is typically responsible for the training of coaches and referees, the sanctioning of tournaments and the hosting of provincial championships. This spring, those governing bodies that include Baseball Ontario, Rugby Ontario, the Ontario Lacrosse Association and Ontario Soccer have had to immerse themselves in the nuances of public health policy. This has become critical to best protect their athletes, official and spectators.

Baseball Ontario suspended all in-person baseball programs and activities until May 31.

Rugby Ontario as of April 10 extended their original ban that was supposed to expire on that date with a promise to revisit the situation again before June 30. Rugby Ontario said they “support the decision to extend the suspension of sanctioned rugby activities.”

The Ontario Lacrosse Association on April 24 extended their suspension of play until at least May 15. A spokesman for the OLA made the following post on their website, “We remain optimistic as we continue to model multiple-return to play plans based on a number of scenarios.”

Ontario Soccer has extended their suspension of all soccer-related activities until at least June 1.

These decisions by the provincial sporting bodies directly impact virtually all baseball, rugby, lacrosse and soccer played across Kawartha Lakes.

Locally tough decisions are being made about youth sports already. The Kawartha Lakes Minor Lacrosse Association, responsible for Fury lacrosse, posted on their website the following, “We have been monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely hoping we might be able to salvage a portion of the 2020 season. Unfortunately at this time we will be unable to do so and have decided to cancel the 2020 House League (and rep) seasons.”

The Kawartha Lakes Soccer Club shared with their families the possibility that, “we may not be able to return to soccer until July or even later.”

With only the Lindsay Rugby Club owning its own fields, all other youth sports rely on utilizing facilities owned and maintained by the City of Kawartha Lakes. Craig Shanks, responsible for recreation and culture for the city, was asked how long after a lifting of the state of emergency would facilities be ready for community usage.

Shanks replied via email the following, “Unfortunately that question does not have a simple answer. It depends on the facility in question, what the proposed use would be, and how long the (state of emergency) continues.”

All these variables make it difficult to estimate when a service provision could be reignited, Shanks tells the Advocate, noting the longer that services are not provided the more time it will take to see them return, given facilities have lied dormant and will need maintenance. Staff, too, would need to be mobilized, he says.

This situation was not helped when the city announced the layoffs in late April of 300-plus part-time, seasonal and contract staff, many of whom are responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of diamonds, fields, pools and rinks.

One long-time coach and convener told me the following on condition of anonymity.

“Absolute best-case scenario the kids are going to get some kind of rump season this year. We are kidding ourselves if we think all our players are going to come back. Many of our teams play a lot of their games in densely-packed, urban communities to our south and west. I don’t see our parents lining up for those road trips, at least not this summer.”

He adds, “We will also need to factor in running programs without our traditional sponsors. Many of these people haven’t worked in months. Their discretionary spending is gone. Without these generous local business people contributing thousands of dollars you could see registration costs for some sports double.  Hockey next fall could be devastated by long-time loyal sponsors simply putting up their hands and saying no.”

Mike Puffer, long time local sports writer and editor for the former Lindsay Daily Post weighed in on the impact a cancelled summer of sports could have on these young athletes and youth sports in general.

Puffer says, “If an entire season is lost, regardless of the sport, I would worry that some young athletes may not come back to the game a year from now. They may be jaded by the whole experience, or have found other activities to become involved in.”

Puffer continues, “Local athletes, regardless of skill level, will not be benefitting from so many of the intangibles that participating in sports offer: being part of a team gives those youngsters social opportunities that they may not otherwise get exposed to. They learn the value of teamwork, of supporting others, of appreciating other people’s abilities and they may even learn the value of sportsmanship and accepting that not everyone wins.”

He adds an important point that many of these young people unable to participate in sports this summer are of high school age and because of COVID-19 they have already missed participating in school spring sports season. Puffer shared the reality that, “often such (sporting) experiences are more valuable to some kids than the actual formal education.”

“Finally, I am thinking about the lost opportunities that many young people won’t get by volunteering with local sports programs this year,” Puffer says.

“Both of our children coached local minor soccer and lacrosse and it was a great experience for them, not to mention the volunteer hours they got for high school.”

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