By Charlie Senack, Barrhaven Independent
The Mother Teresa girls basketball team was reeling with excitement after beating Glebe Collegiate to win the city championship earlier this month. But that emotion changed to disappointment after learning they were being denied the opportunity to compete at the Ontario Federations of School Athletics Associations (OFSAA) provincial tournament in St. Catharines next weekend.
There are 18 regional sports associations that make up OFSAA , only eight of which are competing at the provincial championships this year.
The city basketball crown capped off an unbeaten season for the Titans. When tryouts started on the first day of the school year, they decided to make attending OFSAA their goal for the year.
Grade 12 Mother Teresa High School students Piper, Sheridan, and Tegan, who are all part of the girls basketball team, have started a petition hoping to at least get a review done of the decision. In less than 24 hours, it garnered over 3,000 signatures of support.
Liability and COVID Concerns
The reason given for bowing out of the provincial championships comes down to COVID concerns. The National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association (NCSAA for short), decided before the season even began that any winning teams in the Ottawa region would not compete.
In an email obtained by the Barrhaven Independent, Rick Varden, who is the Department Head of Health and Physical Education at Sir Wilfrid Laurier High School, and the NCSSAA Acting President, gave reasoning for the decision.
“The decision for the NCSSAA to not enter any individual or team sport fall OFSAA Championship was made in consultation with Senior Staff from the four Boards of Education that make up our Association,” wrote Varden. “Their consensus was that the NCSSAA would not be entering any individual or team fall OFSAA Championships. The decision was not made lightly, and was made with student and staff safety at the forefront.”
He says that decision was communicated to school principals and athletic directors before the registration deadline, and before the season got underway.
“The goal for NCSSAA this fall was to get student athletes playing (as safely as possible) after an 18 month forced Covid layoff,” Varden added. “Our student athletes need and deserve to experience the physical, social, psychological, emotional, and spiritual benefits sport provides; especially after such a difficult past 18 months. Thanks to the efforts of staff and students to remain diligent with our safety protocols we accomplished that this fall.”
But restrictions since then across the province of Ontario have changed and the basketball team feels the decision should at least be reviewed. They are all fully vaccinated and are willing to comply with any safety guidelines.
Both Barrhaven city councillor Jan Harder and Barrhaven Catholic School Board Trustee Spencer Warren advocated for the girls to compete at the provincial level, but had no luck.
In a statement to the Barrhaven Independent, Warren said it’s too late for the decision to be reversed, and notes it impacts all sports in all four school boards across the city. He also says most Ontario school boards dropped out of OFSAA this year, other than a few, mostly in the Toronto area.
“We opted out of the fall and told OFSAA we would review winter sports,” he said. “We don’t require students to be vaccinated to play sports and some Boards do. St Mother Teresa (also) won boys soccer and St. Mark won football; all coaches knew in the fall that we were not applying OFSAA rules this year and not participating.”
The group of girls say they are puzzled as to why a review can’t be done when so much has changed on the COVID front. On television they see tens of thousands packing Raptors games in Toronto and Ottawa Senators games in Ottawa, but can’t compete at OFSAA without a crowd.
“We understand that the board is liable for us and they want to keep us safe, but we as a team came together and we are confused by the messaging,” said Tegan. ”Look at concerts or even other sports games and clubs; you can have 15,000 people gathering in a stadium but we can’t go and play a couple of games.”
Her friend Piper notes the decision makes no sense when organized sports teams outside of school have already been safely competing in tournaments in Quebec and other parts of Ontario.
“There is obviously always the COVID excuse and we are not saying that it’s not a valid excuse, it totally is; we watched the world get affected by this pandemic; we watched schools and sports get shut down because of the pandemic,” she said. “But when you look at a larger perspective at other sports that are going on and are travelling to Toronto and Montreal to play games without masks and with fans, it’s bizarre that they won’t take that into consideration when it comes to the schools.”
Sheridan says the league she and Tegan are a part of outside of school have already competed in away games, all while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“We travel a lot and our league is based out of Toronto so we went to Montreal a few weeks ago and it was like COVID was nothing there,” she said. We were able to play without masks; we were able to have family attend; It’s really unfortunate because being our last year of high school, of course our parents wanted to see us play.”
Also with it being their last year of high school, college and university representatives will be on hand at OFSAA, looking to scout new players. But that opportunity will be taken away from them, without any reconsideration.
During the course of the season, they have religiously followed all COVID protocols including: washing the basketballs regularly; spacing the chairs six feet apart: and wearing masks which are changed multiple times during a game.
They all say they are happy to get COVID tests in order to attend OFSAA, and are willing to follow any other health and safety guidelines to make their end of high school dream come true.
“It’s not even that we are asking for a change, we are just asking them to consider it,” said Piper. “They are not looking back at their decision and reevaluating their initial choice, which is actually the biggest issue for me personally. I don’t expect people to change their morals and ideas for safety for students, but I do expect some reevaluation, especially with the traction the petition has picked up.”
The petition can be viewed by clicking here.