In the wonderful world we call school sports in Yellowknife, there was but one flickering light left in the wilderness.
One small yet huge event which brings together the city like no other.
The battle between one school which has Jesus on its side versus the school which says Jesus needs a Falcon.
But not even those two could stop what’s happened to scholastic sports in the capital.
There will be no Wade Hamer Challenge Cup this year, the annual hockey reunion between Sir John Franklin and St. Pat’s High Schools. The decision to put the kibosh on proceedings this year was made on Feb. 1 after both schools met to see what the options were and what sort of game could be held under the restrictions put forth by the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer.
Peter Curran, who helps organize things on the Sir John Franklin end, said it was just too late in the school year to make it happen.
“We’re already in second semester for this school year and it wouldn’t have been able to happen the way we would want it to,” he said.
Rob Hart, who works with St. Pat’s, said both schools wanted to wait until Feb. 3 to tell the students.
The game, which is traditionally held each November, is one of the highlights of not just the annual school sports season but the annual sport season in general, drawing hundreds of fans from both schools to the Multiplex.
Last year’s game was pushed back to February in order to have it during the Hockey Day in Canada festivities.
The original plan was to have it back in its original time slot in November but restrictions on group numbers at the Multiplex due to Covid-19 caused organizers to look at this coming March as a possibility.
Hart said both sides had a meeting in January over Zoom to see what could be done in order to have a game of some kind.
“We wanted to have something official and not a 3-on-3-type of thing,” he said. “We wanted a game with official rosters and how we could go about doing that so we bounced some ideas off of each other and came up with what we thought could work.”
After talking with the city about ice availability and to the YK Minor Hockey Association about schedules, Curran said several scenarios were drafted with a final submission sent to Protect NWT for its perusal.
“We knew it was never going to be a traditional game, especially this year,” he said. “We knew it would be scaled back but we still wanted it to be meaningful and as full as possible, knowing we wouldn’t be able to put 1,000 or so people in the arena.”
Protect NWT replied late last month, he added, with the news that it wouldn’t happen the way both schools wanted it to.
“We were told we couldn’t host the game the way we wanted to but we were welcome to re-submit a revised plan,” he said. “We thought about moving the game to April because that would give us time to do some prep work, get in some practices and work out the scheduling but we agreed that it had to be a sound game. Nothing wrong with shinny, but it has to be a proper game and it just wouldn’t work with the numbers where they are right now.”
“We asked for some accommodations and they just weren’t given,” added Hart. “The chief public health officer’s job is to take care of us and that’s what she was doing.”
Curran said the students’ response to the news was one of disappointment.
“The kids have been asking and the parents have been, too,” he said. “We felt the worst for the Grade 12 kids because this would have been their final year playing in the game. They were asking us if we thought of this or that and, of course, we told them we did.”
To help soften the blow of the cancellation, both schools hosted a celebration of sorts where some senior players were honoured for their years of service to the game.
Curran said there is every intention to have the game return this coming November in its regularly-scheduled time slot.
“There’s the continued interest in the game so we’ll get back up and running as soon as we can,” he said.
Hart said the hardest thing about cancelling things this year is knowing how much of a community event it really is.
“It means so much for so many people because it is so special,” he said. “It’s a bonding event for both schools and it makes us better friends. The kids all want to win and there’s the teasing afterward but it’s all about school pride and pride in the community. We did our best to make it happen but it’s just another addition to a disappointing year.”