SURREY — Matt LeChasseur has trumpeted the hard work and the co-operation of everyone who has played a role in helping get children safely back into their classrooms this fall amidst the global pandemic.
And within that scenario, the teacher, basketball coach and athletic director at Surrey’s Holy Cross Regional High School has expressed a sincere hope that despite the ticking clock of the traditional fall-winter sports season, that B.C. high school student-athletes would be allowed to safely engage in a more meaningful level of competition, something more akin to the ones many of those same children are already able to get with their community-based sports teams.
“Right from the start the focus had to be on safely getting the kids back in the classroom,” LeChasseur began, stressing that safety of all concerned remain the No. 1 priority.
“Now, I think everyone is feeling comfortable with the safety protocols we have in place and it’s really time for the kids to start to feel a little more of a deeper connection to their school community. I know sports plays a huge role in that.”
B.C.’s high school sports model, guided by the province’s health and education guidelines, has taken a cautious approach almost two months into the new school year.
For example, high school football teams have been given permission to gather for non-contact practices, with no games allowed to be contested.
The community sports model, guided provincially by viaSport, announced on Aug. 24 that it had progressed to Phase 3 of its Return to Sport plan, one which permits teams placed within cohorts to play games outside of their own associations. All of that has allowed sports like football and soccer to begin full-contact play in the youth divisions.
Men’s and women’s U SPORTS university soccer teams, under those same auspices, have also begun to play competitive matches within cohorts.
High school sports, however, has not managed to gain the same traction, and LeChasseur, like so many other teacher-coaches around B.C., admits that confusion and frustration have become familiar emotions.
“With school sports being in (a comparable version of viaSport’s) Phase 2 of the Return to Play plan, it’s really frustrating for the kids right now,” LeChasseur says. “I think the kids are ready to take another step.
“We have not had any direction on why there is a discrepancy between what is happening in the community and what is being allowed in the high schools,” added LeChasseur. “I would argue that the cohort system in the schools is an amazingly safe model, and we have kids that are walking out of our cohort door and joining a community team with kids from multiple cohorts that are coming together and playing games against other community teams.
“Are we missing something in terms of safety or the difference between what is happening with Stage 3 in community activities, and why high school sports are being held back with Stage 2?” he asks. “I am not 100 per cent sure why this is happening.”
B.C. School Sports executive director Jordan Abney, a tireless advocate for the safe return of high school sport, is sensitive to the upswell in anticipation building within the ranks of the coaches and student-athletes throughout the province.
“When they announced the Restart Plan for K-12 Education, they noted that school sports and other co-curricular activities would be re-evaluated mid-fall,” Abney said. “I think it was clear they want to get kids and teachers safely into school and have them find their routines and settle in.
“Here we are six weeks in, and there have been some exposure events in schools that they predicted would happen,” added Abney, “but they are consistent with, or even less than what is being found in the community at large, so I think there is a good trend demonstrating that schools are not causing spread and that schools are a relatively safe place.”
For his part, Abney has made sure the plight of B.C. high school sports has not fallen on deaf ears.
“I have been in constant contact with our contacts in both the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education to educate them on the importance of school sport and express the concern we are hearing from our membership about the negative impacts on school sport due to this discrepancy with the club and community systems,” he informs. “We are eager to work with them on the next steps in this re-evaluation process to get kids back playing school sport safely again.”
Deeply entrenched in the provincial high school sports model, LeChasseur coached Holy Cross to the very first B.C. Quad-A senior boys basketball championship final back in 2014, where the Crusaders ultimately fell to Vancouver’s Sir Winston Churchill Bulldogs.
Throughout, he has always made a point of highlighting how integral the sports experience can be within a high school student-athlete’s experience.
“School spirit, relationships and the life skills from high school sports is so important for these kids,” says LeChasseur. “A lot of them identify with their sport and with all their friends, and the worst thing that can happen is they show up at 8:30 (a.m.) and leave at 3 o’clock without making those connections.”
He adds that the school spirit of which he speaks is almost palpable as he sees various Crusaders’ boys and girls teams taking part responsibly in practices each week.
“It’s amazing,” he says. “I know that just in the halls here, it’s different. The daily life of school is significantly different. But the one thing that is keeping most of the kids engaged are activities that are happening outside the day-to-day of the school and we just want for them to get as much of the full experience as possible.”
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