Return to play – with safety first

Charlotte Morgan, age 10, heading in to her first ringette practice of the season. Photo: Elspeth Tory

By Elspeth Tory

As we head into the 10th month of the absolute thrill that is 2020, I often feel like I’m stuck in a late-night infomercial where someone shouts, “But wait, there’s more!” Except instead of steak knives, it’s just bad news. “Sad about your cancelled family vacation? For a limited time only, we’re throwing in homeschooling, existential angst and social isolation. And if you order now, we’ll even include free nasal swabs for the whole family – limited quantity while supplies last.”

With the world turned on its head, one of the notable changes for our family was the loss of almost all of our children’s organized sporting activities. Back in March, I knew the coronavirus situation in Ottawa was getting serious when my son’s hockey arena was turned into a COVID testing centre.

Weeks usually spent scurrying from arenas to pools to gymnasiums were suddenly wide open and shockingly quiet. Friends with kids in competitive swimming were no longer trudging to 5 a.m. practices or spending their long weekends at motels in Cornwall. I admit enjoying the change of pace and the release from the mental work of carrying everyone’s schedules in my head. Even with only two children in non-competitive sports, our family was usually at the arena five times a week.

The kids, however, were devastated by the loss of their teams.

Now, after months on hold, children’s indoor sports are slowly rolling back into our daily schedules. Some, like soccer, have been going all summer with restrictions in place.

My daughter Charlotte had her first few ringette practices in late September. “I missed it so much, it’s so nice to be back!” she beamed after coming out of the arena.

CORA (City of Ottawa Ringette Association) has put so much care and attention into every aspect of planning this year. Teams have been kept deliberately small and are organized by school when possible. Health forms must be completed before every ice time but are seamlessly integrated into an online app. Skaters need to arrive at the arena in full gear to avoid congregating in the change rooms. As a team manager, my job is now almost entirely COVID safety-related rather than the usual collecting of team fees and organizing tournaments.

I spoke with Sara Hostland, a Glebe resident whose seven-year-old son Nolan Carew is passionate about hockey and desperately missed it during the lockdown. “It is such an important part of his life,” says Hostland. “I was hesitant about returning to hockey, but the organizations and coaches have worked hard to make it as safe as possible. For our family, the benefit of returning to sport far outweighs the risk”.  As an emergency room doctor, Sara also emphasized the key metric to watch. “If community transmission rates increase, I would feel differently about keeping Nolan in hockey.”

Nolan, for his part, is ecstatic to be back on the ice as a member of Ottawa’s competitive hockey team, the Sting.  “It’s fun to hang out with my friends on the ice after being stuck at home. I’m so happy I get to skate again. I really like doing shoot outs.”

Another Glebe parent, Dominique Milne, has kids in both swimming and martial arts. “Seeing the kids back doing sports is a huge relief,” says Milne. “The coaches and the pool administration have implemented measures that are very safe. Same goes for karate, which also offers Zoom lessons if a child can’t make it to practice. We feel confident in sending the boys back. It’s been a great way for them to socialize and get the training that they need. They are much happier kids now that they are back doing the sports they love.”

With the number of COVID-19 cases in Ottawa on the rise, we may well be headed for another round of restrictions. I’m hopeful that with safety measures in place, kids will be able to continue enjoying their team sports for as long as possible. However, if there’s anything I’ve learned from 2020, it’s to limit your expectations because while the next “wait, there’s more!” could be a COVID-19 vaccine, it might also be murder hornets.

[Editor’s note: As of October 10, provincial health regulations allow sports teams to continue with drills only, not scrimmages or games.]

Elspeth Tory is a Glebe mother of two who is active in Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group (GNAG) and the Glebe Community Association.

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