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How COVID-19 is impacting high school athletics in southern Alberta

Click to play video 'How the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting high school athletes in southern Alberta' How the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting high school athletes in southern Alberta
WATCH ABOVE: With most school divisions in southern Alberta not currently allowing sporting activities, post-secondary recruiters are adapting in terms of how they connect with prospects. As Eloise Therien explains, while some schools haven’t been given the green light to play again, some teams expect to be up and running in the next few weeks. – Sep 17, 2020

At this time of year, sports are usually beginning to take shape in schools across the province, including football, volleyball, basketball, and cross country running.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most school boards in the Lethbridge-area have yet to allow these sports to begin.

The Lethbridge School Division — the largest in the city with around two dozen schools and thousands of students — says their pandemic plan does not allow for any co-curricular or extra-curricular activities at this time.

“Lethbridge School Division recognizes the value of extra-curricular activity and appreciates the frustration many are feeling right now,” the division said in an email to Global News.

But they didn’t rule-out the possibility of play.

“There are several complexities involved in meeting protocols surrounding extra-curricular activities, and many possible solutions, such as modified seasons of play, remain as possibilities.“

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The pandemic plan has been developed over the years by many individuals within the Lethbridge School Division.

Read more: Hockey Alberta ramps up concussion education for female players

The Holy Spirit Catholic School Division and the Palliser School Division told Global News they also aren’t currently allowing sporting activities, but the Westwind Division is planning on getting junior and senior high school sports up and running in the near future.

“We are making plans to start playing games as early as next week,” Westwind Superintendent Darren Mazutinec said. “We’ve got our toes right on the line of what we’re allowed to do.”

He says they thoroughly examined the guidelines set out by Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association, and Alberta Education before making any decisions.

Those include maintaining spectator restrictions, creating 50-person cohorts within the schools, and taking breaks between games as necessary.

“If one of our teams plays a team — and that team could be a team outside of Westwind – but if those two teams get a third team involved there’s a two-week waiting period.”

Mazutinec says they expect a finalization on exact details early next week.

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While this is good news for some Westwind athletes, many are left in limbo about whether or not their sport will continue this year.

Read more: Southern Alberta students protest diploma exams during COVID-19

For post-secondary recruiters, watching young players in-person is a big part of the process.

“I’m the kind of coach I like to go watch practice, especially just to see those kind of habits” Jermaine Small, head coach of the University of Lethbridge Pronghorn men’s basketball team, said.

“Obviously we don’t know what’s going on, just the uncertainty of it all [is] challenging.”

Small and Dave Waknuk, head coach of the women’s basketball team, say they’ve experienced a flood of emails from high school athletes looking to reach out or provide highlight reels.

“It doesn’t hurt to reach out to programs,” Waknuk advised. “Look at what you’re options are, send an email, send quick call, to somebody and just have conversations.”

Waknuk adds he keeps contact with coaches at the high school level to gauge recruitment opportunities and is hopeful some kind of solution will be made for basketball as the situation unfolds.

“I think there’s lots of rumors, lots of speculation, lots of possibilities,” he said.

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For Pronghorn basketball athlete Isabel Rattai, she understands the frustration high school athletes must be feeling but encourages them to keep at their craft.

“I think you just have to make the most of what you have. I mean, if you have a home gym, get in there,” she said. “Maybe ask coaches for drills, stuff you can do to get better.”