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Outcry growing over ban on B.C. school sports tournaments

Regular-season play has been allowed in school sports, but with no fans allowed in the stands — even as junior hockey teams in B.C. are allowed up to half-capacity in rinks.
Basketball tournaments, like the Gary Taylor Classic at Oaky Bay High School, are currently banned, but organizers are holding out hope that'll change soon. (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST)

Those involved in school sports want answers for what they see as a clear and obvious discrepancy. Athletes in youth club and community sports were allowed to return to tournament play beginning Tuesday in B.C., but not in school sports, even though it’s often the same athletes.

“We’re all surprised, confused and frustrated and we want to know why there are two different guidelines,” said Darren Reisig, president of the Lower Vancouver Island School Sports Association.

“Especially when it’s mostly the same kids involved in both groups.”

Regular-season play has been allowed in school sports, but with no fans allowed in the stands. That’s even though junior hockey teams in B.C. are allowed up to half-capacity in rinks.

It is also the time of year for school sports playoffs in basketball, which are traditionally contested in tournament formats.

“It’s a critical time for us. It’s go time, but we have been left to fumble along,” said Reisig.

“We have to be flexible. There is a Plan B, team versus team playoff games at multiple sites, but it would be far easier to go back to tournaments as we have always done. We can do city playoffs with a Plan B, but I don’t see how we can do Island championships that way.”

Amrit Lalli has carried with him a lifetime of memories from high school sports at Belmont Secondary, including making the B.C. semifinals in 1991 in basketball and playing against future Canada Olympic team captain and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash of SMUS in 1992. Lalli is now a parent-coach with the Vic High Totems and wondering why the current group of high school basketball players could be denied their opportunity.

“It’s really frustrating, especially for athletes who have worked so hard to play in the playoffs,” Lalli said.

It will be next to impossible for B.C. championships to be conducted if tournaments are not allowed. With the 2020-21 school sports season dark due to the pandemic and the spring season of 2020 cancelled before that, high school athletes have already lost much.

Provincial health minister Adrian Dix acknowledged that last week when he said: “A lot of people graduate from sports systems, whether it be 12-year-olds in Little League or 17- or 18-year-olds in, say, coming up will be the high school basketball tournaments in B.C. These are important moments in their lives. Some people have lost those moments the last couple of years. So it’s important that we act safely and follow public health guidance. But it’s also important these events take place if they can be done safely.”

School sports, however, do not fall under the Ministry of Health or Public Health Office but instead the Ministry of Education.

B.C. School Sports issued a statement: “We are stunned … as there was commitment made this year to ensuring club and community sport access remained equal to school sport, and to have this decision made at such a critical time of year is disheartening for everyone involved in school sport and continues to threaten and erode at the long-term health and sustainability of school sport.”

A petition on to lift the ban on B.C. high school sports tournaments had garnered 12,818 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.

The Ministry of Education said it is meeting this week with the province’s K-12 steering committee to review the current guidelines with respect to school sports tournaments.

“We recognize the ­importance of sports for students and school communities,” added the ­Ministry, in a statement.

“At this time, school districts are focused on ensuring all students have access to in-person learning, which is crucial. Student-athletes are able to compete in games and individual competitions, but school sports tournaments remain paused for the moment. There are setting-specific prevention measures in place across all K-12 schools for all activities, including extracurricular activities. These differ from community sports. We have been working closely with Public Health and B.C. School Sports.”