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SPORTS CHAT: COVID-19 should no longer be an excuse for high school sports

In this file photo, Adam Callaghan of the Sydney Academy Wildcats, middle, works his way to the rim as he's pressured by Millwood Knights players Morgan Rae, left, and Zach Duke during tournament play this past season. Callaghan is now a recruit of Mount Saint Vincent University. JEREMY FRASER/CAPE BRETON POST.
In this file photo, Adam Callaghan of the Sydney Academy Wildcats, middle, works his way to the rim as he's pressured by Millwood Knights players Morgan Rae, left, and Zach Duke during tournament play this past season. Callaghan is now a recruit of Mount Saint Vincent University. JEREMY FRASER/CAPE BRETON POST.

It came fast and furious.

Phone calls, emails, and text messages all within a span of two days.

Last week, concerned high school parents contacted the Cape Breton Post to voice their concerns about the news that school gyms would be closing at 6 p.m. and will remain closed on weekends.

In particular, calls related to the high school sports feeling the effect of not having unlimited access to these gyms are basketball and volleyball.

Although this is not only an issue in Cape Breton but across the province as well, the response from both the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Centre for Education and Strait Regional Centre for Education were both very clear.

Both, without directly saying it, believe the closures are necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting it gives cleaners the time needed to ensure all cleaning and disinfecting requirements are met.

The reasoning doesn't sit well.

In terms of using the pandemic as the reason, that ship already sailed when the province announced students and teachers would be returning to the classroom at full capacity. It was deemed safe.

In the announcement, a plan should have also been introduced for extracurricular like sports. Instead, while other off-site school sports are already being played, basketball and volleyball are getting the short end of the stick because they have to use school facilities.

Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer for the province, provided some light at the end of the tunnel for sports when it was announced as of Oct. 1 sport and performing arts could resume without physical distancing, increasing to 50 people on the playing area.

"Art and sport are vital to our physical, mental and social well-being," said Strang during the announcement. "Nova Scotia continues to see low COVID-19 activity, allowing us to safely resume important activities Nova Scotians enjoy."

Meanwhile, Leo Glavine, minister of communities, culture, and heritage, in a press release regarding the announcement said, "this will be welcome news, especially for children and families for whom participation in sport and other activities is such an important part of their lives."

Are we missing something? Are the centres for education missing something? Have government officials not made it clear the importance of sport?

Not to take away from the severity of COVID-19. The threat of the virus is still with us, even though nobody can remember the last time there's been an active or new case in Cape Breton. It's very much still a risk.

However, if government officials have deemed it safe for students and teachers to return to the classroom, there's no reason plans shouldn't be in place to have sports teams back on the court with full access to gym facilities.

We can all agree and are thankful for the work cleaners in our schools have been doing. They've been tasked with big challenges this year and for that we thank them.

However, the cleaners shouldn't be blamed for these early closures. They are not at fault in this situation. They are doing what they've been told to do and that's following the protocols and make sure it's safe for all involved in the school system.

The question on the minds of everyone.

Given sports have the approval to return, basketball and volleyball included, why haven't cleaners' schedules been moved around to accommodate high school sports in the evenings? It's a major problem, so it seems.

In August, the province announced $40 million would be set aside for more teachers, cleaners and supplies.

The Cape Breton Post questioned whether the CBVRCE received funding from the province to hire more teachers and cleaners. A fair question and one taxpayers should know.

Unfortunately, the CBVRCE chose not to answer the question. The question couldn't be followed up because the interview was done via email, at the request of the CBVRCE and not the Post.

Is money the issue? Have centres for education not received funding to hire more teachers and cleaners? Why is the question not being answered?

If it's not an issue, maybe the problem is finding people to do the job? If that's the case, shouldn't that be made public to find the help needed?

It's been a tough year for everyone. The provincial government and centres for education have been faced with challenges and are doing what they can, it's been noticed, and we can all respect that, but be honest with parents and student-athletes - they deserve it.

In was less than a month ago, in the Sept. 22 edition of Sports Chat, the importance of high school sports was discussed.

Unfortunately, we must revisit the importance again.

High school sports have more importance than the average person would understand. It's not just about playing the game, representing schools, or scoring goals and getting points, there's a bigger picture and one that's being overlooked.

To play high school sports, students must keep certain marks. If they don't have good marks, they can't play, meaning sports gives those athletes more reason and drive to perform well in the classroom to keep playing.

Meanwhile, high school sports are an area in which many players are recruited by universities and colleges. Some players use high school sports seasons as the final attempt to be recognized for their talents.

It's more than just sports.

However, if COVID-19 cases begin to rise, the sports situation will have to be re-evaluated and shut down if necessary, like last March.

As of press time, no changes were made to early gym closures across the province

For now, we'll end this week's column with a question for the government officials and centres for education across the province.

What do you say to the senior in basketball and volleyball who may be relying on a strong Grade 12 season, and because of financial reasons, are relying on a scholarship to play sport in order to reach their goal of attending post-secondary education?

Response to the question can be emailed to [email protected] for publication in our opinion section as a Letter to the Editor.

Jeremy Fraser covers sports for the Cape Breton Post. He welcomes column ideas, sports story suggestions or feedback about this week’s Sports Chat.

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