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John Abbott student-athletes, coaches return to play under strict health and safety measures

John Abbott College athletes back on the pitch after a long COVID-19 induced break
WATCH: It's been months since John Abbott College athletes have been able to train with their teams, in person. With classes set to resume in a few days, teams have already started training together while respecting all the health guidelines set out by the province. Global's Kwabena Oduro reports.

So much has changed since colleges and the province shut down back in March. Like every other school, John Abbott College shifted classes, projects, and exams online. Sports teams met on Zoom or Teams to exercise and discuss their sport.

Training camps at John Abbott resumed last weekend for men’s and women’s varsity soccer. For student-athletes, this is a much-anticipated return to doing what they love.

“I’m really excited. This was a season I was looking forward to. So it’s nice to know that I will be back with my teams and meet new girls,” Sarah Klein, a second-year fullback, said.

Although their season will look different, the team’s head coach, Tony Zacchia, says he is not changing his philosophy.

“It’s important for the girls to keep active, to keep playing to have some school pride. So in any sort of season, I think it’s important for them to have success on the field and in the classroom” Zacchia said.

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Soccer, basketball, volleyball, women’s hockey, lacrosse and football are all returning this fall — but under strict health and sanitation guidelines.

“The top ones as it is everywhere, is social distancing, wearing a mask where you can’t distance and sanitizing. Those are the big focus,” Debbie Cribb, a spokesperson for John Abbott, said.

Patrice Lemieux, manager of the sports and recreation department at Abbott, says the college is being as safe as possible and that every precaution is being taken.

“Student-athletes are coming from so many different households, and regions. We want it to be safe for our students, our families — everyone,” Lemieux said in a press release.

“We are applying all the rules set out in the College COVID-19 protocols as well as the respective sport association rules — whichever set of directives is most restrictive, that’s the one we are applying.”

This year will look very different on the sidelines as well. Coaches who are 60 years of age or older, have a family member that is vulnerable or simply don’t feel comfortable, will not be with the team in person. They won’t be on the sidelines, leaving a massive gap — decades of experience and understanding of the game — for younger coaches who are stepping up and playing a bigger role.

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“We’ve all learned that things are moving and changing quickly, sometimes daily. Being careful, being mindful of each other and our community, we look to a new school year, COVID-style”

READ MORE: Team sports to gradually resume in Quebec amid coronavirus pandemic

This is an adjustment the players say they are ready to make.

“It’s a bit different, different rules but I don’t think I’m too nervous about it, it’s still like playing soccer,” student-athlete Jaylyn Wright said.

The players are happy to be on the pitch but they say they will be OK if there is no season after all is said and done.

“If it’s decided that it’s not safe to play the season against all the teams across the province then I’m OK with not having a full season,” Klein told Global News,

“I will be happy if we get to play a couple of games, I’m not expecting more than just having a season,” Nathalie Hoffmann, a forward with the team, said.

For many of these athletes, getting back on the field is a much-needed distraction.

“Everything kind of goes away when you’re on the field I find, you don’t have to worry about much” Alexa Hawraniak, a midfielder in her second season with the team, said.

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