By Cole Parkinson
Ever since the pandemic hit Alberta last March, local sports have been in flux.
Many seasons saw cancellations early on, including the competitive swim season, hockey, basketball and many others. While baseball was allowed to proceed later in the summer, it was still a truncated season compared to seasons prior.
Heading into the fall, while it was hopeful sports in southern Alberta would return to normal, that wasn’t the case. Hockey did get a soft launch early in the fall, but it was short-lived as further restrictions would come down from the province. Central Alberta Hockey League and southern Alberta teams were able to get in a handful of games into November, but after the provincial government made the call to bring stricter measures back into place, it effectively stopped local hockey until the New Year.
The biggest heartbreak across hockey was for graduating players who were not able to complete their minor hockey careers.
“I hope there is a meaningful season after this break and our players get the opportunity to compete. It would be a shame if our third-year players did not get the opportunity to finish their minor hockey careers properly,” said Lynn Degenstein, head coach of the U18 Taber Golden Suns.
Minor hockey associations also expressed their disappointment Grade 12 players did not have a chance to finish strong in their minor hockey careers.
“For us, that’s probably been the most devastating thing. We have a number of kids in our association, and we merged with Picture Butte for our U18 group. So between Picture Butte and Coaldale minor hockey, we have several kids who are in their last year. I know a lot of kids came back this year to be able to play with their friends and have that last chance to play. Our association was hoping to bid on provincials this year for U18, like last year when we put in a bid. We feel bad for those kids. We do hope Hockey Alberta creates some opportunities for them to have another year of organized hockey, whether it’s a Junior C season or something. But that’s up to Hockey Alberta to decide,” stated Darren Hurt, Coaldale Minor Hockey president.
Football was allowed to play games against teams in their own zone, which gave kids the chance to further develop their skills on the gridiron. And while it was far from a regular season, it was still an overall success considering the circumstances.
“This was a season that required a lot more hoop-jumping than any other I’ve been involved in, but in the end, with the help of a fantastic group of volunteers, we were able to give the kids a chance to get out on the field and play,” said Jason Jensen, Taber Minor Football president. “With all they’ve been through with this pandemic, I think that was something that was dearly needed, and made all the hard work worth it. I’d call that a successful year.”
Other sports last fall weren’t so lucky.
School court sports, gymnastics and figure skating all saw difficulties in getting off the ground due to the pandemic.
The lack of local sports has been devastating for kids who count down the days until their perspective sport rolls around and being cooped up for months in a row was not something anybody wanted.
But during this time, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on how much local sports mean to small communities in southern Alberta.
In Coaldale, the Copperheads mean so much to the community. Just walk into the Snakepit on a Saturday night and tell me the community doesn’t love that team.
In Taber, football season is massive and the Ken McDonald Sports Complex is packed for W.R. Myers Rebels games every single game.
And Vauxhall has the Academy Jets. Their home tournament near the end of the spring season sees tons of the community come out and support the team.
It’s not just about having kids go out and play the game they love, it’s also about each community rallying around one team. And without that over the past several years, it feels like a piece is missing.
Now, with restrictions starting to lift slightly and vaccines on the way, the hope to have sports back at the local level is starting to feel like it’s on the horizon.
And when it does, don’t hesitate to get out there and support your local teams and athletes. I can guarantee they will be fired up to finally get out there and having the support of the community may be the highlight of many of their sporting careers.