So it’s official: school sports is gone for another year.

Another year of students not getting the chance to play, another year of athletes not getting that extra chance to show what they can do, another year of coaches not getting a chance to see what’s potentially out there in terms of who can play on territorial teams.

Another year lost.

I’d like to say I’m shocked but I’m not. Disappointed? Yes. Upset? Sure. Surprised? Not even in the slightest. When nothing was on the schedule for the start of the 2022 calendar year, I knew nothing was going to happen. I wasn’t even optimistic and when that happens, it’s a lost cause.

I still fail to see how something didn’t happen. All of the proper regulations were put in place, the rules were very clear and no one ever came up with one good reason why we weren’t able to play. What we’re left with is a second consecutive year of wondering why there wasn’t any volleyball or soccer or table tennis or badminton or anything else.

(I won’t use track and field as an example for this year because there’s a rather large reason why this year’s championships in Hay River wouldn’t have happened. People are still trying to clean up.)

Now, before you start jumping down my throat, I am not blaming the NWT School Athletics Federation, just like I didn’t last time I criticized the non-hosting of school sports. The federation is not at fault for nothing happening because it can only operate based on what — and how — the school boards tell them. If the school boards won’t allow the gymnasiums or their buildings to be used, there isn’t much it can do.

So don’t go yelling at them. The federation wants the kids to play just as much as you and I do.

But what I find extremely frustrating, and maybe you will as well when you read about it, is that school sports happened in other parts of the country this past scholastic year. Pick a province and you’ll find something resembling school leagues taking place. How is it that school sports can happen in jurisdictions with larger population bases, and a much larger threat of Covid-19, but we’re still waiting and wondering when our kids will get the chance to get back out on the court/field/ice?

By extension, no school sports has absolutely ruined the development of athletes who are training in the North. Bad enough they didn’t have much of a chance to do anything for the better part of the past two years at the club level but a lot of them use school sports as extra practice. That’s especially true for the athletes from the communities, let alone Yellowknife. If they can’t play, they can’t get better. If they can’t get better, they won’t achieve. And if they can’t achieve, what’s the point?

I say that latter part because we are on the cusp of one of the busiest stretches of major games ever seen in the North. It all begins in August with the Canada Summer Games in Ontario. Sure, athletes and coaches have been able to get back in gyms or head out to fields and have some sort of training camp but one or two big weekends won’t even come close to replicating what used to be. Yes, I know we’re in the “new normal” and we’ve had that phrase force-fed to us for months on end but can you say I’m wrong?

Coaches for major games have used school sports tournaments as a way to see what’s out there and gauge what’s coming down the pipeline. Track and field is one of the biggest benefactors of the NWT Track and Field Championships because coaches were able to not only take notes but have athletes nail down qualifying standards. You see, track and field isn’t a sport where you simply show up and play — you have to meet a certain standard and if you don’t, you don’t play. Swimming is another sport where you need to hit the seed time in order to qualify for an event. No seed time? No plane ride.

The coaching staffs are doing the best they possibly can to make up for lost time but so much has been lost already and I’m worried about how it’s going to look, especially at the Canada Summer Games. This is the best of the best when it comes to amateur sport in Canada and we’re expecting our young athletes to try and hang with athletes who have probably not lost as much time as we have. I’m not talking about the big provinces, I’m looking at New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island. Those are the provinces we’ve always had a chance against but even now, you have to wonder. It’s been tough before but it could be ugly. I’m not taking pleasure saying that — I’m just warning you so there isn’t any sticker shock.

So as we prepare to enjoy the closest thing to a proper summer holiday since 2019, keep in mind that the new school year is less than three months away. Let’s hope the ducks are in a row so we can get the kids playing again because a third year of no school sports would be the nail in the coffin.

James McCarthy

After being a nomad around North America following my semi-debauched post-secondary days, I put down my roots in Yellowknife in 2006. I’ve been keeping this sports seat warm with NNSL for the better...

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