At the risk of beginning December in completely Grinch-like fashion, I will say what needs to be said: it is high time that top ranking officials with the City, Public Health and local School Boards gather at one table to try and find a solution to the lack of space for the athletic endeavours of our youth, in Sudbury.
For those not in the know, the current pandemic policy instituted by all four of the local school boards (which is also the case pretty much across the province, by the way), prohibits the use of school facilities by community groups.
While I am sure there are others that are affected through this dictum, there is little doubt that court sports and soccer (at least in their off-season = winter), have been hit particularly hard. For weeks on end, concerned parents and coaches involved with the Sudbury Jam Basketball Club, the Northern Chill Volleyball Club and the Greater Sudbury Soccer Club, primarily, have tried to lobby their case.
Just to be clear about the parameters of this debate, let's all acknowledge that none of the folks at the helm of any of the sports organizations is oblivious to current health concerns. But the fact is that these groups are being allowed to practice, as are similar groups right across Ontario, subject to the protocols enacted by both health officials as well as various sport governing bodies.
No one is looking for a free pass on these requirements, though they absolutely require more work on the part of association volunteers and create less efficient workouts. That is a price one and all are willing to pay in order to try and provide some level of safe physical activities for the children.
Unfortunately, in Sudbury, all three of the large amateur sport organizations noted above have become increasingly dependent on school gymnasiums for team practices, over the years. The soccer community was thrilled when the construction of the Lasalle Dome was completed, only to be left out in the cold once outdoor fields can no longer be accessed - at the moment.
The City has definitely cooperated in terms of trying to access any of their facilities that might fit the bill, but the truth is that most of the old converted schools house gymnasiums that are not a whole lot better than venues such as the Italian Club in Copper Cliff, a perfect site for a wedding, but not nearly as perfect site to host a basketball practice (though that is what is currently being done).
Yes, I suppose we could bemoan the lack of city-owned venues that can provide adequate court space, but that would not solve the current problem, not to mention the fact that a City dealing with a pandemic and several large projects already in the works might not enjoy the ideal environment to try mounting a case for the construction of multi-use sports facilities that can house basketball, volleyball, badminton and the like.
A big part of the frustration of local groups lies in trying to obtain answers on the specific rationale behind the collective decisions of the school boards. As best that they can ascertain, the logic is heavily rooted on fears that opening up school gyms for evening practices to community groups would cause COVID rates to skyrocket, in our area, simply because of the fact that we are now inviting students from a whole variety of different schools into a building that currently acts as something of a self-contained bubble.
Some in the sports setting have even suggested that the policy is merely the school boards following local health unit protocols. Of course, that makes absolutely no sense. First, while I haven't confirmed this with the upper echelon of health unit personnel, it defies common sense that sports groups would have their blessings to run practices at the Sudbury Christian Academy, or the Sudbury YMCA, or the Baseball Academy (or insert any of the facilities the City has offered up to them), but then not allow them access to a standard school gymnasium.
While cross-contamination between school populations can be avoided simply enough by not scheduling community practices until several hours after the last students have left the school, the larger counter argument is that various school co-horts are already intermingling regularly: in social settings, at local rinks as part of the same community hockey teams, etc...
There is, to be sure, the issue of potentially increased cost for the school boards to keep their gyms open into the evenings, or possibly on weekends, including additional cleaning expenses. But as far as we know, the local sports groups haven't even been presented the option of potentially covering those costs to ensure that their sport can move forward in a pandemic.
At least one local basketball representative has sent out multiple emails to all parties concerned, simply asking that a dialogue be opened on the issue, and has been met by one standard reply that directed him to a policy housed on a website, a policy that he was already well aware of and that comes without any kind of rationale.
The message was clear: no community groups allowed in school settings.
To be fair, at least one local councillor jumped aboard, trying to identify City-owned alternatives, only to seemingly realize that not only are those options too few and far between to come even remotely close to servicing this market, but the options that are available are also woefully inadequate or impractical.
If it appears that this plea is mounted on the backs of just a small handful of sports, there is good reason for that. While the swimming community that would typically access the Laurentian pool is still battling to have that venue opened, they at least have other options at their disposal.
Not ideal options, but options nonetheless.
Likewise for the hockey, ringette, figure skating and speed skating folks. Given that all of those facilities are city owned, and that their primary purpose is to promote physical activity, there was plenty of incentive to try and get things opened up, as soon as was safely possible. Likewise, local curling clubs have plenty of reasons to wanting to see curlers back on the ice. Ditto for privately run enterprises like RHP and Baseball Academy and the like.
And while no one is contending that the first and foremost concern of the school boards must not always reflect their ability to offer educational teachings in a safe environment, somewhere along the line, the notion of children being equipped with both a sound body and mind seems to have fallen way down the priority list.
It's a shame no one is talking about it.