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Sports still on ice due to pandemic, say area schools

Not yet safe for team sports, says Nixon 

St. Albert and Sturgeon student athletes will have to keep their cleats on the shelf for now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, area boards have decided. 

St. Albert and Sturgeon County’s four school boards issued a joint statement Jan. 8 saying they would continue to postpone all school-based junior and senior high athletics until further notice due to the COVID-19 situation.  

The four boards suspended in-school athletics after the pandemic reached Alberta in March 2020. While some Alberta schools resumed team sports in September, St. Albert and Sturgeon ones did not, as they wanted to evaluate how the pandemic affected in-school classes. Come late October, a surge in COVID-19 cases convinced St. Albert-area schools to maintain the pause until January.  

The pandemic situation has not improved since November, so area schools don’t plan to change course on sports, said Rhonda Nixon, deputy superintendent for Greater St. Albert Catholic.  

“We don’t want to move too quickly,” she said, adding boards are concerned about a potential surge in cases due to the Christmas holiday. 

The provincial government also imposed strict limits on group physical activities, including team sports, as of Dec. 13 due to the pandemic. While indoor group activities were allowed in schools, outdoor team sports were limited to 10 people, all of whom had to stay two meters apart. These measures were to remain in place until at least Jan. 21. 

That doesn’t mean phys-ed has been cancelled, though. GSACRD Sports Academy co-ordinator Geoff Giacobbo said he had reworked his students’ sports-heavy curriculum to meet the challenges of COVID. 

“We’re really focusing on outdoor activity as much as possible,” he said, such as skiing, tobogganing, and snowshoeing. 

Giacobbo said students are wearing face-masks where possible and otherwise staying far apart during physical activities. Gear such as javelins and shotputs are disinfected between uses, and rules are modified to minimize player contact – soccer is two-on-two only, for example. Students are also spending more time on core skills such as strength and speed training so they could jump back into team sports whenever they resume.

Still, it is a tough situation for some athletes, Giacobbo acknowledged. 

“The best part of being an athlete is competing. They love to play.” 

It is also unclear how this long suspension would affect students who hoped to join post-secondary sports teams, Giacobbo continued. 

“Lots of these players, they’ve lost a year,” he said.  

The boards said they would continue to track the pandemic situation to see if school sports would become safe to hold later this year. 

The province listed 16 St. Albert and Sturgeon-area schools as being under COVID-19 watch or outbreak status as of Jan. 10.  

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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