Personal Best: Boreal, Cambrian, LU training to engage, retain sports programs

Lucie Groulx and Tim Yu

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How do you stay keep sports alive while keeping everyone safe until the COVID-19 global pandemic is resolved?

How long can varsity sports programs last when there’s no competition and minimal face-to-face contact? Can sports programs — which bring students to post-secondary — survive?

Well, hope springs eternal — that’s why there are Toronto Maple Leaf fans.

And it’s also the way it goes in sport, it seems. There’s always next year.

Still, it’s a daunting prospect for local post-secondary athletic departments to figure out, thanks to the cancellation of the 2021 national championships at the university and college levels.

First it was the fall sports, announced in June. Then last week, the reality of a global pandemic’s second wave erased optimism for even a limited or restricted season for two-semester sports.

Locally, more than 400 athletes and 20 coaches — not to mention others, from athletic therapists to game-day crew — were affected at Cambrian College, College Boreal and Laurentian University.

University athletes are training, mostly off site, renting space in city pools, for example.

With confirmation that there will be no sports season, everyone has pivoted to enhance connections.

Boreal is using the college’s internal resources — in health and promotion, for instance — so athletes can train at home via virtual technology and computer software, says Lucie Groulx, manager of student life.

The goal is to offer some level of athletic engagement, with an eye to return to play and to help the students stay healthy, she says. 

“We believe in the importance of sport and its positive influence on individuals,” Groulx says.

At Boreal, the cancellation affected 30 athletes in badminton and volleyball. The college is in the process of hiring coaches. 

Boreal was also providing some court facilities for Northern Chill volleyball and a community badminton club.

The sports centre remains closed, although city facilities are open and operating under strict protocols, laced with the smell of cleanser. 

Academics are the main focus and the college only allows students on campus who need to be there, she says. 

“We’re trying to reduce the possible transmission of COVID. We’re allowing only academic program labs in our student facilities, (so the students) will be able to succeed in their programs.”

It’s the same situation at Cambrian, where 100 athletes, five coaches, and 10 assistant coaches in men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, cross-country, and badminton must also pivot.

“The cancellation of the winter varsity season is disappointing for everyone involved with the Golden Shield varsity program, who were looking forward to competing, but we fully support the decision, given the current COVID-19 pandemic,” says Tim Yu, Cambrian’s athletic director.

“The health and safety of our athletes, coaches, other athletic staff, and the broader Cambrian family is our top priority. Cancelling the winter schedule is the right thing to do, especially now that we are in the second wave of COVID-19.” 

Student-athletes and coaches can approach Yu and Andrea Manson, Cambrian’s athletic association president, with their questions or concerns. 

The college is working with coaches to stay in contact with athletes and offer them training to maintain their fitness and skills. 

“We will maintain our existing relationships with athletic therapists for our athletes who require them,” said the college in an email.

“If our athletes are feeling stressed or anxious about this, we do offer mental health care support through the Glenn Crombie Centre for Accessibility and Wellness and Wabnode Centre for Indigenous Student Services.”

Yu continues to put his faith in the character of student-athletes.

“As high-level competitors, our athletes and coaches already have a strong ability to adapt to and overcome obstacles and situations. We will get through this and come back stronger whenever the OCAA season resumes.”

Here’s to next year.

Laura Young’s column, Personal Best, appears regularly in The Sudbury Star.

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