March 7 seems like a looooong time ago.
Just before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of all school sports, Jake Mouritzen coached his G.W. Graham senior boys basketball team to a provincial championship. It was a moment of elation and triumph, reaching the top after 14 years years of scratching and clawing.
Six months later, Mouritzen faces a new challenge just trying to get a team on the court for 2020-21.
Or the field, for that matter, where the Grizzlies football program would normally be kicking off its season right about now.
“There are a lot of kids out there who need athletics in their daily life to be successful at school, and right now it’s about finding safe ways for kids to stay active and be part of that positive culture that they love so much,” Mouritzen said. “But it is challenging. Everyone’s working hard, but we’re all in undiscovered territory.”
In his role as Director of Athletics for the Chilliwack School District, Mouritzen played a lead role drafting the ‘Fall 2020 Athletic Update and Protocols’ document that sets the stage for a return to play. Countless hours went into connecting with every governing body, and working through current COVID-19 documents throughout the province to create the five-page document. It took less an hour after it was distributed for parts of it to need revision.
“That’s just the fluid situation with what’s happening out there, where things seem to change by the second,” Mouritzen said. “But in our school district, our mandate is to be on the same page, take this challenge on as a district and not as individual schools and try to work through the muddy water to create opportunities for student athletes.
“Right now there’s less importance in the pride of G.W. Graham, Sardis secondary and Chilliwack secondary, and it’s more about a community coming together and focusing on the physical and mental wellness of our students.”
What is particularly tricky to navigate is the difference between community and high school sports.
Community sports organizations like Chilliwack FC (soccer) follow viaSport Phase 3 guidelines that are less restrictive than what B.C. School Sports allows for. As an example, ViaSport approves ‘competition cohorts,’ allowing a community team from Chilliwack to compete against another team in the same cohort.
In schools, everything is tied to ‘education cohorts,’ and the priority above all else is making certain those cohorts (groups) aren’t compromised by COVID. In recent days the government has faced criticism for the unequal freedoms community sport organizations currently have over B.C. high school sports and the nearly 700,000 student athletes that make up the organization.
Community athletic cohorts will directly impact education cohorts, based on students participating during their free time.
In Chilliwack, secondary school students are being organized into groups of 30, and B.C.’s Ministry of Education allows a max cohort of 120. If all of the basketball players are in that group of 120, they can train together with looser COVID guidelines. But if anyone from outside of that group of 120 wants to join in, they need to follow a stricter set of rules.
In basketball, where rosters are smaller, this might be manageable. Football, with much larger rosters, requires a lot more juggling.
And that’s just the practice part.
Under B.C. School Sport rules, there’s currently no avenue for GWG athletes to compete against other schools.
“It’s tough because there are a lot of passionate people out there who have been doing this a long time, and they’re struggling with it,” Mouritzen said. “I’ve talked to top coaches at the very top level of their sport in the province, and a lot of them say, ‘Right now, sports isn’t on our radar. We’re making sure our families stay safe and healthy.
“But at the same time, we appreciate the sacrifices nurses and doctors and all the great people in medicine have made during the pandemic. In education, I think it’s super important for us to help our students get back to a positive place where they’re excited about school and learning.”
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