By Orrin Farries

Return to play: the three hottest buzzwords in amateur sports leagues across the world right now.

COVID-19’s declaration as a pandemic by WHO officials placed the summer of sports into tumult and uncertainty.

Many sporting events were cancelled outright, and the chasm of sports entertainment was eventually filled by a different kettle of fish. In North America, the NBA and NHL seasons were cancelled, the MLB season was postponed, and a cascade of amateur sport league cancellations and postponements followed suit until the quarantine was felt across the sporting world.

As the first phase of COVID-19 passed us by, many of the professional sporting leagues were able to figure out work-arounds for greenlighting competition and returning to the commercial gains of the games they play. Amateur sports have faced an entirely different reality.

The Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) had to cancel the remainder of the 2019-2020 athletic season, a devastating blow to our Ook’s Men’s Hockey team, who looked poised to avenge their 2019 Provincial final loss to the Grant MacEwan Griffins.

The ACAC’s current plan to bring collegiate sport back to gyms across Alberta is effectively “wait and see”. Their current press release has the Fall 2020 sporting schedule being cancelled for one-term sports; Golf, cross country, soccer, and postponed until April 2021. Imagine starting your final year of collegiate sports immediately after completing your final year of studies. That’d be pretty weird.

The ACAC has postponed the two-term sports; hockey, basketball, volleyball, badminton, curling, futsal, and indoor track, until the Winter 2021 semester, pandemic trends not forbidding.

Keyano College’s athletics director, Jim Knight, is the newly appointed director of the ACAC, with Chief Executive Officer Mark Kosak still in the fold to see the ACAC right the ship in the wake of this pandemic. The positive thing for the time being is that ACAC sports are currently in ‘postponed’ status, not ‘cancelled.’

With the upset of the usual annual sports schedule there will be challenges a-plenty for our Ook’s coaches and athletes, as well as ACAC athletes across Alberta. Practices are still being held, but the interest is not there in the same way that it has been in years past.

Athletes who normally make the sacrifice to be away from their families to play their sport at a high level abroad, are now electing to stay home and study online. Worse yet–for the quality of competition at the ACAC level- they are taking their talents to other college conferences that offer a more solid return-to-play timeline.

The crux of this year’s athletic schedule is whether or not we, as a community in Edmonton, are able to squash COVID-19 like ACAC soccer teams squashed the Portage College Lumberjacks last year. Given the appropriately stringent guidelines to advancing the stages of return-to-play as dictated by the Alberta government, it is reasonable to assume that the seats in the stands of our Ook’s gym shall remain in their state of want for the warmth of the cheeks of fans.