West Vancouver school district Supt. Chris Kennedy thinks it’s time to try to restart high school sports.
He’s very clear. He’s not talking about something leading to a massive provincial championship. Kennedy’s talking about neighbouring high school teams, in cohorts of four, playing against only one another with extensive coronavirus protocols in place.
He’s talking about what community sports was granted in August by the B.C. government and has been doing since then. The government’s return-to-school plan released in July said inter-school events wouldn’t be permitted to take place initially but would be “re-evaluated in mid-fall 2020.”
High school teams have been allowed to practise since classes returned.
The provincial election has taken the focus of the government of late. Kennedy understands too that the rising COVID-19 case numbers may spark concern. He believes that schools can make sports run safely — “we’re living those protocols every day,” he explained — and a return to games between rival schools, albeit in a limited format, would benefit the overall well-being of students and school communities.
“There’s so much positive will trying to make it happen right now. I’ve spoken to a number of my superintendent colleagues and there’s a common belief that sports can aid in the physical, social and emotional well-being of students,” explained Kennedy, a longtime high school basketball coach himself, highlighted by his time guiding Richmond’s McRoberts Strikers. “We’re worried about the mental health of kids. We’re looking for more things to connect with kids. If school becomes just a place where you go to get credits, then it’s not really school.
“I don’t want to underestimate the complexities of this, but everything we’ve done so far with schools this year has been complex. Getting the kids to school, getting the cohorts figured out, dealing with different technology issues … every day we’re faced with problems that we never imagined before the pandemic.”
The basic frustration for school sports folks about being on the sideline is the simple fact that community sport is up-and-running. As Kennedy says, there are “kids in our gymnasiums with school teams from 3 to 6 p.m. obeying by certain rules and then they can be back in those same gyms with their club teams from 6 to 8 p.m. playing under a completely different set of rules.”
There’s the price point issue as well. School sports is subsidized. Club sports is often a business. The longer school sports sits on the sideline, the more you wonder about how it might look when they do eventually return, and whether programs will be lost long-term. There are also families who don’t have the money or wherewithal to take part in club sports regularly.
“There’s probably been little change for the affluent families regarding sport through this. They’ve found club situations that work for them,” Kennedy explained. “The kids who need school sports the most are the ones who aren’t getting it.”
Kennedy downplayed the idea that student/athletes were missing out on university scholarship opportunities with school sport in limbo, calling it a “red herring.” He believes that university coaches will find ways to find players.
In fact, he thinks that the return of school sports in this era would have an even greater focus on participation, since teams wouldn’t be gearing up for a run at the provincials.
“You’d probably carry a bigger roster, you’d probably play everyone more equally because you’re not worried about that high-level competition piece,” he explained.
Kennedy contends high school sport could “look different” for it to be allowed to return. He talked about switching to 3-on-3 basketball or 2-on-2 volleyball, for instance, if that help makes things safer.
“You shouldn’t skip out on something just because you think it might be hard,” Kennedy explained. “We’ve found ways to make music and art and drama happen in so many of our schools. There are other kids who have passions for athletics. We need to help them.
“We’ve got schools launched. We’ve got club sports launched. Now we take what we’ve learned from both of them and put it together for school sports.”