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SPORTS CHAT: Why having high school sports is more important than one would think

Marley MacGillivary of the Breton Education Centre Bears, right, protects the ball as Ella Greencorn pressures during Cape Breton High School Soccer League girls junior varsity action at Open Hearth Park in Sydney, in this file photo. An announcement on high school soccer has yet to be made, but with recent changes to COVID-19 guidelines, there's still hope for the soccer season. JEREMY FRASER • CAPE BRETON POST
Marley MacGillivary of the Breton Education Centre Bears, right, protects the ball as Ella Greencorn pressures during Cape Breton High School Soccer League girls junior varsity action at Open Hearth Park in Sydney, in this file photo. An announcement on high school soccer has yet to be made, but with recent changes to COVID-19 guidelines, there's still hope for the soccer season. JEREMY FRASER • CAPE BRETON POST

When the COVID-19 pandemic became reality for Atlantic Canadians in mid-March, it forced the prompt halt of high school sports in all four provinces.

It's been a long six months for student-athletes in Nova Scotia, but things are slowly beginning to open up as case numbers remain low to non-existent with no wide community spread in any of the provinces.

Recently, the Nova Scotia School Athletic Federation, following provincial guidelines, allowed the baseball and golf seasons to resume, while cross-country and volleyball have been permitted modified competition and practices.

Last Friday, the provincial government announced more positive news for high school sports.

As of Oct. 1, up to 50 people can participate in sports and organized physical activities without physical distancing, allowing full team practices and competition for most sports.

The gathering limit of 50 without physical distancing includes players/participants, officials, coaches, instructors or anyone required to be on or near the field of play.

Why is this important?

The easing of restrictions should allow most high school sports to begin their seasons on time, other than the soccer season, which would have normally started last week.

The easing should come as no surprise. The number of COVID-19 cases has been low for a while and there's no reason high school sports and club sports shouldn't return to competition.

Prior to the announcement, there was lots of doubt regarding high school sports. Some believed the soccer season would be canned with lots of questions regarding the hockey and basketball campaigns.

For the average fan, it's about the competition and seeing their children and grandchildren playing the sports they love. But for high school athletes, it's more than just sports and championships — it's about their future as well.

Many athletes play high school sports in an attempt to be recognized by university recruiters and receive scholarships for their post-secondary education, especially those who play basketball and soccer.

The easing of restrictions should allow most high school sports to begin their seasons on time, other than the soccer season, which would have normally started last week.

Don't believe it?

Atlantic University Sport has 11 universities within its organization. Combined, more than 203 athletes, male and female, from Nova Scotia played either basketball or soccer in Atlantic Canada last year. The number doesn't include Nova Scotians who've decided to play for universities outside of Atlantic Canada.

Along with the AUS, several players from the province last year also suited up for Atlantic Collegiate Athletic Association teams.

Many other sports also have Nova Scotia players including football, which the NSSAF cancelled last month for the fall season, rugby, swimming, track and field, volleyball and curling.

Yes, it's fair to say some scouting may have taken place prior to the high school season, however, the majority of those players also play high school sports, which provides them the chance to receive a second look by recruiters.

Aside from the competition and recruitment aspects, sports are also important for mental health and wellness, something the province's chief medical officer of heath, Dr. Robert Strang, admitted as part of Friday's news.

"Art and sport are vital to our physical, mental and social well-being," said Strang in a news release. "Unfortunately, COVID-19 has put some of these activities on hold."

Meanwhile, Leo Glavine, minister of communities, culture and heritage, also addressed the situation in a news release.

"This will be welcome news, especially for children and families for whom participation in sport and other activities is such an important part of their lives," he said.

In terms of fan participation, audiences must continue following current gathering limits while attending these events. Outdoors, the maximum number of people allowed with physical distancing in place is 250. For indoor events, the limit is 50 per cent of a facility's capacity, up to 200 people, with physical distancing protocols and mandatory wearing of masks.

There's no doubt the decision to cancel sports in mid-March was right. The health and well-being of everyone is the most important thing.

The easing of restrictions to allow sports to return is a testament to the effort Nova Scotians, young and old, have made to limit and contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Although things seem to be heading in the right direction, Nova Scotians can't take their foot off the pedal with the potential of a second wave soon. We've come so far, we can't turn back now.

If COVID-19 numbers remain low, high school sports should be able to complete their respective seasons. If numbers start to rise, there's no question sports will be shut down again.

Despite the government's announcement, the NSSAF has not officially announced the return of the remainder of high school sports as of press time. Surely, we can expect some sort of announcement to be made in the coming days.

Jeremy Fraser covers sports for the Cape Breton Post. He welcomes column ideas, sports story suggestions or feedback about this week’s Sports Chat.

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