Junior, senior high school sports begin south of Lethbridge in Westwind School Division

Click to play video 'Westwind School Division gives green light for cohort-friendly competition in southern Alberta' Westwind School Division gives green light for cohort-friendly competition in southern Alberta
WATCH: The Westwind School Division had actual high school sports games in progress on Tuesday, as the southern Alberta division that represents towns like Raymond and Cardston has given the green light to athletics. Danica Ferris has more. – Sep 22, 2020

It’s a first step that student athletes have been eagerly anticipating, and on Tuesday, the Westwind School Division allowed the first games of the school year.

Volleyball got underway for schools like Raymond High School, and football is scheduled for the weekend — all operating under careful adherence to provincial cohort guidelines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

“We’re going slow here for a minute,” said Westwind superintendent Darren Mazutinec. “We are moving but we’ve got lots of room to go.”

“We’re bound by 50, whether it’s a football program or a golf program. So this weekend, we have a football game between Cardston and Raymond, and all the coaches know that if they need to modify their rosters to get under the 50, that’s what guides our action.”

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Raymond High School principal Darryl Salmon said it’s been hard work by the division to get to this point and a lot of research into the guidelines set by Alberta Health Services.

“It’s been a lot of reading but it’s been good to be able to see our kids participate and get used to a little bit of practice and a little normalcy,” said Salmon.

Read more: Brooks Bandits keeping intensity high at camp even with no AJHL games in sight

What’s been confusing for some is whether or not kids can participate in multiple groups. The latest information from AHS said “individuals should limit the number of cohort/mini-leagues they belong to,” with no maximum number or limit laid out by the province.

“It’s a risk analysis that you have to take as a family,” Minister of Culture Leela Aheer said in Edmonton on Monday, “and as a person and as a coach and as an organization and as a province.”

Mazutinec said that personal discretion is being left up to parents.

“It’s parents’ choice on the cohorting. A parent can let their child participate in as many cohorts as they feel it’s safe for their child,” he said.

Read more: Coronavirus: Edmonton father torn between playing rec hockey or coaching kids due to cohort restrictions

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What is clear is how many spectators will be allowed at high school games, with indoor sports like volleyball limited to 100 and outdoor sports like football capped at 200.

Mazutinec said tickets will be mandatory for fans hoping to watch, and tickets could be a hot item in towns like Raymond that have a history of large crowds.

“We’ve made sure each of our participants has two tickets, and the principals are splitting the tickets between the two schools for the home and the visitor,” he said.

Westwind is ahead of the nearby Lethbridge School Division, which is yet to announce firm plans for its athletics this school year.