Coronavirus: Students protest Lethbridge School Division decision to delay sports

Click to play video 'Students protest Lethbridge School Division’s delay on sports, extra-curricular activities' Students protest Lethbridge School Division’s delay on sports, extra-curricular activities
WATCH ABOVE: While other school districts across the province get athletics running on a small scale, the Lethbridge School Division reiterated its position on Thursday to further delay extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. As Danica Ferris reports, students let their feelings be heard at the division’s office – Sep 24, 2020

Dozens of students from all over southern Alberta gathered outside the Lethbridge School Division office on Thursday, protesting the division’s decision to delay reintroducing sports and other extra-curricular activities back into schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ahead of Thursday’s protest, both the Lethbridge School Division (LSD) and the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division reiterated their positions on the topic of athletics, with both saying they are not ready to give the green light to resume their sports.

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

“Lethbridge School Division Board of Trustees has made the decision to continue with the current pandemic plan that does not allow extra-curricular and co-curricular activities,” the LSD said in a statement. “This decision was made following a review of the plan and consideration of a number of factors, including the complexity and sustainability of protocols that are in place to ensure health remains the top priority within the plan.

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“The board also considered feedback from middle schools and high schools regarding the potential re-entry of co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. There was consensus that maintaining the status quo at this time is, overall, in the best interest of students and staff.”

Board of trustees chair Clark Bosch took in the protest on Thursday, and said that while he can feel for students, now isn’t the right time to make the jump.

“I’ve done nothing in my life but play sports. My kids have all played sports. I’ve coached,” he said. “I’ve spent my life in a high school gym [and] I’d probably be in a high school gym today if I wasn’t here.

“It’s a terrible thing, but we are talking a pandemic that’s happened for the first time in 100 years.”

Read more: Anti-mask protesters make their voices heard at Lethbridge city hall

Thursday’s protest comes on the heels of the Westwind School Division’s decision — south of Lethbridge — to allow sports like volleyball and football to begin.

Bosch said just because a cohort-friendly model might work in communities like Cardston and Raymond, doesn’t mean it would work in a larger centre like Lethbridge.

“I grew up in southern Alberta,” he said. “I know that the culture in our southern places is very different — and it’s very excellent, as far as I’m concerned — but they would have nothing but support there.

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“They are much smaller communities, and maybe that’s why, but it’s certainly not the situation Lethbridge is in.”

The Raymond Comets football team will be playing this weekend, but not against the team they would consider their biggest competition.

“We wanted LCI to play,” said Grade 12 student Kaeden Reid. “The LCI-Raymond rivalry is pretty big, and I know that they’re missing out on their season.”

The rivalry between Lethbridge Collegiate Institute and Raymond High School didn’t stop a group of Raymond players from attending the protest on Thursday in solidarity.

“There’s people from schools outside of our school division that are here supporting us,” said Presley Heggie, a Grade 11 student at LCI who organized Thursday’s event. “Westwind School Division gets to play, which I think is unfair because we don’t get to play.”

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Heggie said she worries about the mental health of her fellow students without extra-curriculars to be excited about, and that grades could even be affected if students become apathetic without minimum standards to reach to be eligible for rosters.

She also believes the decision could impact students’ futures when it comes to moving on to post-secondary situations.

“Scholarships are so affected by this, because if we can’t play, then they can’t watch us, which means less scholarships,” she said. “A lot of kids aren’t going to get to go to the colleges or universities that they want to.”

Read more: Southern Express showing dedication despite no games set for Alberta Bantam Elite league

Grade 12 LCI student Ryan Evans believes many athletes will miss out on post-secondary entirely because of the situation.

“I know a few other guys that aren’t going to go to university after high school, because the only reason why they would be going is to get a scholarship,” Evans said.

Parents in attendance on Thursday said it’s been difficult to keep older students optimistic. Ryan Thomson has a son in Grade 12 at LCI and said not being able to play his senior year of football has been devastating.

“It’s been very challenging. I had a not-so-nice experience with him where he was sobbing, because he’s unable to play a sport that he’s been playing for nine years,” Thomson said.

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“Being a Grade 12 student, he’s worked very hard to get to this point, to play with a group of friends that he’s gone to school with from kindergarten to Grade 12, and this final chance to really perform and have a good year — have that full high school experience — has been taken away from them.”

Both the Lethbridge School Division and Holy Spirit Catholic School Division said they will continue to monitor and re-evaluate the situation when it comes to extra-curricular activities.