SHSAA prepping for return of fall sports

Students are returning to classrooms all over Saskatchewan this September after school closures took place March 20 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

School is more than just the classroom setting though with plenty of social benefits to go with the academic side. For many, athletics are a place to build long last friendships and bond groups of students together forever.

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The Covid-19 pandemic is trickier to maneuver for athletics with the impossibly of physical distancing in many sports and the issues masks could cause while in play.

The Saskatchewan High School Athletic Association (SHSAA) has announced an update and outline for school athletics this fall as students in all 27 school divisions return to high school for the first time in months. Although it’s not a fully detailed return plan, it’s the first steps towards fall high school sports returning as students return. The actual return of sports in high schools will be a decision made at a later date and need division approval for implementation. 

The SHSAA reviewed the current information surrounding the Saskatchewan Safe Schools Plan, School division re-opening plans, the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan, current Public Health Orders, Provincial Sport Organization (PSO) sport specific protocols for re-opening sport, and a draft document that is being designed to assist those school divisions and schools that choose to include sport as part of the school re-opening process. 

After meeting on August 12, the SHSAA Executive Council finalized their staged re-introduction of school sports plan with an adjusted schedule for fall sports.

SHSAA adjusted fall sports season of play schedule:

Golf- September 8 to September 26

Cross country- September 14 to October 17

Soccer- September 14 to October 31

Football- September 14 to November 14

Volleyball- September 14 to November 28 

“It was evident throughout the executive discussions that the safety of school sport participants is paramount as is the opportunity for school divisions, schools, administration, staff, and students to make a focused transition during the return to school process,” said SHSAA Executive Director Lyle McKellar. 

“The Executive believe that a gradual and methodical approach to re-introducing school sport is warranted to assist the entire process of re-opening schools. A gradual return to school sport will allow teacher coaches and student athletes an opportunity to gain an understanding of, and become comfortable in, the new school environment while looking forward to a re-introduction of school sport. 

“Although there are lessons learned and skills developed by students during competition, the executive remain focused on the educational foundation of school sport and the need to support everyone involved in returning to schools this fall.” 

SHSAA five staged re-introduction of school sports this fall:

1. (September 1 to 13)- Promotion and education of school sport preparedness.

Promotion and education of: current Public Health Orders and Sports and Activities Guidelines, SHSAA Return to Sport document, PSO return to sport protocols, expectations for a return to school sport, competition modifications.

Determine interest in school sport participation.

2.1. (September 8 to 26)- Golf training and competition. 

Registration of golf teams and students in ExNet.

School and district golf qualifying competitions.

Provincial golf championship event

2.2. (September 14 to 27)- Athlete and activity preparedness.

Establish teams, mini-leagues, and plans for future competitions.

Registration of cross country, soccer, football, and volleyball teams and students in ExNet.

Register mini-leagues with districts.

Student athlete and team training in preparation for competition.

3. (September 28 to end of sport specific season of play)- Mini-league and cross country competitions. 4. (TBA)- Modified playoffs and championships.

5. (TBA)- Playoffs and championships (no modifications/restrictions). 

“Under the current Sports and Activities Guidelines and Public Health Orders, the SHSAA will be able to sanction modified competitions in all five of the fall activities, but, at this time, will not be able to provide a playoff structure leading to provincial championships in soccer, football, or volleyball,” said McKellar. “Plans for modified provincial championships in golf and cross country are being prepared for further examination by health and sport experts. Detailed plans for these championships, if approved, will be included in the SHSAA’s Return to School Sport document. As changes occur in the Sports and Activities Guidelines and/or Public Health Orders the executive will revise the various stages at which school sport is occurring. Edits to the final SHSAA Return to School Sport document will occur over the next number of days before being released to members and districts. The final details of the document, should serve as a multi-sport, one stop shop for members, and will be finalized through consultations with a number of agencies including: SHSAA members, the Education Response Planning Team, Saskatchewan Health Authority, and the Government Business Response Team.” 

With the Sports and Activities Guidelines released by the province in the Saskatchewan Re-Open Plan, it provides broad health and safety protocol that can be applied to all sports situations, but the SHSAA is developing the protocol that must be applied specifically to each sport to resume in a safe manner this fall. It’s a similar situation to the Ministry of Education putting out the Safe Schools Plan, but each division in the province then taking those protocols and specifying them to the context of their school community. 

High school athletics in other provinces throughout Canada are still up in the air, B.C. hasn’t made a decision yet, Alberta won’t bring them back until they enter stage three of their Covid-19 re-open, Ontario is holding off on bringing them back for the time being, while other provinces haven’t made public statements.

The SHSAA specifically highlights that tournaments and interprovincial travel are not permitted and large public and private gatherings are prohibited. Guidelines and sport specific plans for winter activities and spring activities will be developed and released as the school year progresses, says the SHSAA.

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