Toronto students were stunned by the breaking news that they will not have extracurricular sports or clubs this month, unlike nearby students in Peel, York and Durham, and coaches warned that athletes from the city will be in a “severe, severe handicap.” When it comes to post-secondary scholarships.
“It has a huge impact, because let’s face it, if you want to get a scholarship, you have to play,” said Nathan Greenley, a 17-year-old Northern Secondary student and running back for the school’s soccer team. . “You have to get the film sent to the college coaches.”
Toronto’s public and Catholic boards surprised many students and coaches on Wednesday, the day before classes resumed, by announcing that Toronto Public Health had rejected extracurricular sports and clubs for September, at least.
On Thursday, Peel Public Health announced that it would not do the same, citing the importance of clubs and sports to children’s mental health, as well as equity concerns given that such activities continue to be available in the community, and the Board York Region School District also said it would resume extracurricular activities this month.
“The (Toronto public board) is one of the only boards right now in Ontario that doesn’t run any sports, and Ottawa (public) and Toronto Catholic, so when all other boards in Ontario can, and at all States are running all of their sports, it puts us here in Toronto at a disadvantage, ”Greenley added.
The 12th grader said the cancellation was a big talking point on the first day of school Thursday.
“Nobody liked it,” he said. “Everybody thought it was silly … (Toronto Public Health) did a terrible job of figuring out what to do” and they waited too long to inform the families.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in an interview that while the year may begin cautiously, he is committed to keeping schools open and that any delays in sports and clubs must be temporary.
The province’s medical director of health has previously given the go-ahead for all extracurricular activities to resume, including high-contact indoor sports like hockey and basketball, but giving local health units the leeway to be more cautious if they consider it necessary.
“Minister Lecce is a strong advocate for extracurricular activities, sports and clubs, with public health measures in place, as we know how important they are to the physical and mental health of children,” said his spokesperson Caitlin Clark. .
“He hopes that these experiences will recover as soon as possible.”
University of Toronto education professor Charles Pascal said differing views on extracurricular activities speak of “remarkable uncertainty and confusion about what is safe and what is not.”
However, he added, “if I were a father and had to err on one side or the other, I would be wrong on the safe side.”
For the coaches, however, the resumption of in-person learning, after Ontario students were out of class more than anyone else in the country, at 26 weeks for the last year and a half, would also mean the resumption of sports.
“I am not mad at Toronto Public Health; I think I am a very open minded person when it comes to this pandemic because we are all in uncharted waters,” said John Engel, Brebeuf College School football head coach on the Catholic board of Toronto
Normally, he would organize training camps before the start of school to prepare about 100 players for the season.
“My biggest problem with (public health) and school boards is just the communications aspect,” he said. “Nobody knows what is happening” and until Wednesday the parents believed that sports were going ahead, according to what they had heard from the boards of directors and the provincial government.
“COVID is real and we are not playing games,” he added. “And I’m not criticizing, but I think that when they come up with these plans, we could do more to make this happen for children … (Sports) opens so many doors and opportunities” in college.
“There are kids playing soccer in Peel and Hamilton and Kingston, but kids in Toronto who don’t play are at a severe disadvantage,” he said, adding that he knows a couple of players who have moved to high schools so they can play.
“It all comes down to filming (of them playing) … our Toronto kids are at a huge disadvantage for scholarships.”
In an email, Toronto Public Health said that “this break is recommended based on the current COVID-19 situation in Toronto. TPH had ongoing discussions on this topic with the four publicly funded school boards in Toronto during recent weekly meetings with the directors of education. Based on these discussions, we recommend stopping these activities at the beginning of the school year ”and reevaluating after the first month of school.
But when asked about issues such as fairness, given that students from affluent households can simply pay to play in the community, and children’s mental health, a public health spokesperson said: “We are continuing to investigate your application. Unfortunately, due to staff capacity and time of day, we will likely have to provide an answer (Friday) in the morning. “
Shazia Vlahos, spokesperson for the Toronto Catholic board, said that “Equity of access is always a consideration and we recognize the importance of extracurricular activities for students. Since this is a temporary measure to ensure student safety as recommended by TPH, we felt it was important to implement it by the month of September. “
The Ontario Public School Boards Association said it appreciates that school boards can work with local health units to make local decisions.
“If the Toronto Public Health chief medical officer says he’s not doing it, he’s not doing it,” said President Cathy Abraham. “The issue of equity is a legitimate concern, but it does not override public health.”
Stephanie De Castro, a Catholic high school student from Toronto and a member of the Ontario Student Trustees Association, said that “we were all a bit surprised at first because everyone was looking forward to a school year full of extracurricular activities, because the government, in its back – in school papers, he said it was fine. “
Toronto District School Board President Alexander Brown called the move “prudent” and said he did not have a timeline for when sports might restart, but “obviously we want to implement it as soon as possible.”
Russ Hoff, the football coach at Western Technical-Commercial School, said, “It is the nature of what we are experiencing, but personally it is challenging because we love working with children on the field. But at the same time, we appreciate the uncertainty surrounding the Delta variant. “