Emerging Wisely, the GNWT’s document outlining how we’ll get back to normal, is out and it’s being met with mostly positive reviews.

If you play an outdoor sport, you are probably loving it because it means you’ll get to play something this year.

If you play basketball or volleyball, you probably like it because it means you’ll be able to get going as soon as phase two comes about.

If you’re a hockey player or curler, you probably aren’t the biggest fan of it.

Dr. Kami Kandola, the territory’s chief public health officer, announced this past Friday that we’re in phase one, meaning outdoor get-togethers of up to 25 people can occur so long as distancing guidelines are adhered to. That means sports such as golf, softball, outdoor soccer and ultimate can start up.

If you’re a rugby player, you have to wait.

The Yk Fastball League has begun its preparations for 2020 as it held its annual general meeting on May 13 online.

Garrett Hinchey, the league’s president, said it’s good to see that the league will be able to get going as close to the traditional kick-off as possible, which is around the first week of June.

“There’s still a lot of work that has to be done but at least we have a road map of sorts letting us know what we can do,” he said.

John Whitford of the Fire Prevention Prospectors watches a pitch come in during an at-bat in the final of the Yk Fastball League’s 2019 playoff tournament at Tommy Forrest Ball Park. Softball was one of the sports that can begin playing under restrictions after phase one of Emerging Wisely was put into place by Dr. Kami Kandola on May 15.
NNSL file photo

Tommy Forrest Ball Park is where the league plays its games and it will be subject to the 25-person maximum like everywhere else for the time being.

Hinchey said that means the league will have to get creative on how many people can be there at one time.

“We’ll probably have to limit the number of players that can be at the park; we may have to look at 11 per team right now,” he said. “If we decide to have a scorekeeper, that makes 23 and two umpires makes 25.”

That means no spectators for the time being, he added.

“Everyone’s bored sitting at home and we all need an outlet of some sort so we just need to make sure we do it safely,” he said. “Things look like they’ll loosen up some more in phase two so that would make things easier to organize but we can’t look too far ahead.”

As it stands, there will be no local fastpitch tournaments this season, meaning the Summer Showdown event, which was scheduled for June, has been shuttered. The league’s traditional playoff tournament may look a bit different as well and it all depends on where things sit by the time the season comes down the stretch in August.

“We may roll out a best-of-three format for the teams instead of a regular elimination-style tournament,” said Hinchey. “It all depends on the variables.”

As for the territorial championships, which are scheduled to happen in Hay River in July, Paul Gard, NWT Softball’s executive director, said it all hinges on how things look down the road.

“It could be better by mid-June and that will be better for us in the long run,” he said. “That means the hosts could have some sort of concession or beer garden, if they can safely have it. We can’t put it all on the teams to cover the costs to run the tournament.”

Gard said NWT Softball has sent in its plan to the GNWT for approval in moving forward and to get some feedback.

“It’s all about getting our ducks in a row,” he said.

Right now, there can be no softball happening anywhere in the country until Softball Canada’s imposed lockdown passes on May 31.

When it comes to the links, the Yellowknife Golf Club will have some sort of campaign this year but it will be strictly course-related with little to no tournament action this season at all.

Cole Marshall, the club’s new general manager and head pro, said getting the news that the club would be in operation this season was nice to hear, even if it came with plenty of roadblocks.

“The members are pretty happy about it, that’s for sure,” he said. “I think people just want a reason to get outside and do something and now they can.”

The club posted a lengthy list of how business will be conducted this season at its website along with penalties for not adhering to the rules laid out.

Marshall said it’s more to keep the public safe rather than anything having to do with business.

“It might not look like a lot of fun but we’re doing this with health and safety in mind,” he said. “We just want people to observe the physical distancing aspect and keep in mind that there are rules in place for their own safety.”

The club’s opening day of business is still yet to be determined but Marshall said there’s no hurry because who wants to golf when the temperatures are still in the negatives?

This is also Marshall’s first year as the general manager as he took over from Matthew Gray, who left the club following the end of last season.

He said it’s an interesting and strange way to assume his new role but it’s all about adapting to it and there’s no shortage of help.

“The golf community is good like that,” he said. “There are lots of people offering to help out this season and that’s what makes this town great. Everyone is willing to pitch in somewhere and we all need to be helping each other right now.”

The Yellowknife Tennis Club is in planning mode itself to begin its 2020 season and like every other sport set to go, things will look a lot different than normal.

Tami Johnson, the club’s general manager, said the goal is to give the membership a full season of play but there’s no idea of what that looks like right now.

“We have taken a look at other clubs across the country and we will work with the city and follow the public health orders,” she said. “This pandemic has caused significant funding cuts for our club, but because of the foundation we’ve built, we know we will still have a successful season.”

The Yellowknife Ultimate Club is also planning on an outdoor season of some sort this year but the dates have yet to be confirmed.

Kim Murray, the club’s communications manager, said the board is currently working on scheduling details with updates being sent to the membership as often as possible.

But there are sports that will have to wait a while, some longer than others. Indoor sports, such as the aforementioned basketball and volleyball, along with squash, may get going in phase two so long as they adhere to guidelines, which include no more than 25 people in that space and proper disinfection rules are followed. Gymnastics is one sport which has to wait until phase three, no matter what the conditions are before then as they are considered a high risk.

But the big one came in the form of all indoor arena sports, such as hockey, broomball and curling, having to wait until the final phase, which is when a vaccine has been approved. If the timelines being reported are correct, it will take several months before a vaccine is developed.

That doesn’t sit well with Brad Anstey, past president of Hockey NWT and director of the Yellowknife Sporting Club, a hockey group which runs camps and mini-leagues in town.

He said having to wait until the last phase is more than a bit frustrating.

“That’s a long way out and we could be sitting and waiting until 2021 or who knows when?,” he said. “I’d like to know how they came to that decision because I don’t think they spoke with anyone within Hockey NWT or Hockey Canada. What information did they use to come to that decision?”

He pointed to basketball as one sport which has its players coming in close contact with each other and wondering how it intends to enforce proper distancing and hygiene.

“There’s going to be touching, there’s some contact in there – not as much as hockey but it’s there,” he said. “They’re all going to be using the same ball, I presume. Are they going to sanitize the ball every time someone touches it? Will they have the players wear gloves when they play? I know it seems like I’m knocking basketball but I’m not because it’s great that they’ll be back but it just seems like hockey is getting run over here.”

The Aurora Storm captured the Peewee Cup title during the Yk Minor Hockey Association’s Championship Sunday finals day back in March. They are, front row from left, Asher Hutton, Karter Carson, James Therrien, James Freake, Josh Soloy and Hunter Froude; middle row from left, Nicholas Gray, Zeph Whelan, Maxime Gilbert and Brady Flesjer; back row from left, coach Mike Soloy, Evan Power, Ryan Harris, coach Glen Whelan, Hendrix Balmer and coach Zeph Murdock. When hockey returns is anyone’s guess right now as the sport can’t return to the ice until the final phase of restrictions has been lifted, according to the GNWT’s Emerging Wisely document.
photo courtesy of Glen Whelan

So why is hockey, and other indoor rink sports like it, being forced to wait until the final phase in order to be allowed to start up again?

Kandola said it was based on a full public health risk assessment completed by herself and a team of health professionals.

“This process is based on solid, established public health standards, research about transmission of respiratory viruses generally, and all the information we have to date on COVID-19,” she said. “All of this is then applied to activities to determine when, and whether, we should be working them back into the mix of activities while a pandemic is underway, and how risks of transmission should be managed.”

The big difference in why some sports are allowed to start earlier than others, added Kandola, has to do with the amount of contact and the amount of respiratory droplets that are likely to be in the air during an activity.

She used hockey as an example.

When you play hockey, you’re making a lot of close contact with other people when you do things like hitting,” she said. “By their nature, through people heaving their breath when that happens on either side of the hit, there are a lot of droplets released into the air which could infect people. And it’s really hard to reduce the risks on activities like that.”

Wearing a non-medical mask would not be desirable due to breath limits for folks who are working really hard to play a sport, she added, and the fact traditional face shields cannot be assured to stay in-place during the course of the game.

Hockey Canada announced on May 14 that it is working on a return-to-hockey plan and that it will happen only when it is deemed safe by provincial and territorial governments to do so.

In the meantime, Anstey said he has some ideas on how hockey could make its case to come back earlier.

A lot of the kids already dress before the game and only have to put their skates on, so right there, they’re staying out of the dressing room,” he said. “Keep water bottles off of the benches so no one drinks out of the wrong one. There’s no hitting at the younger levels – there is contact, but no hitting. We simply need to adjust how we play the game.

People are willing to make the changes and it’s no different than their personal lives. We’ve had to make those changes already and we’ve adapted to it. Why the risk is higher in hockey is beyond me.”

What won’t change is the funding for each of the territorial sport organizations (TSO). Even with the staggered starts, there will be no adjustment to the three-year funding model each sport operates under, according to Ian Legaree, director of sport, recreation, youth and volunteerism for the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.

The sports simply get going when they can,” he said. “They won’t be penalized for something that isn’t their fault.”

The new three-year cycle began on April 1, in line with the start of the new fiscal year, and Legaree said the TSOs have the option of moving money around to different years if the situation requires.

That way, they can give themselves some room to get extra resources if need be,” he said.

One thing Legaree will be looking for is some innovation when it comes time for TSOs to submit accountability reports, a requirement under the funding deal.

We’re going to be looking at what you did to either make things more interesting or ways to improve,” he said. “The outdoor sports will be first to get going. Other places around the country are planning on doing things differently so we’ll see what happens here and maybe even share those ideas around.”

James McCarthy

I've been hanging around the office as the sports editor for the better part of the last 16 years. In August 2022, NNSL Media decided to promote me to the managing editor's position, which I accepted after...

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