Players take part in a training session run by Total Soccer Excellence Academy at Porter Creek Secondary School in Whitehorse on Aug. 6. As COVID-19 restrictions are gradually lifted, sports organizations and user groups are ramping up activity. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News)

Organized sports ramp up for fall amid new restrictions

Limited summer programs have gone well, groups say

Hockey players will be on the ice, gymnasts of all ages will be back at Polarettes Gymnastics Club and many more athletes are getting set for a fall season.

While a few organizations have had summer offerings in the form of camps or weekly practices this summer thanks to plans approved by the Chief Medical Officer of Health, more are getting set to return to play or increase the programming they’ve been able to offer this summer amid requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Polarettes Gymnastics Club was one of the first facilities to reopen its doors after shutting due to COVID-19. It began with a five-phase approach that first allowed older, competitive athletes back in the gym before moving on to also offer some day camps through the summer.

When the first session of fall classes begins Aug. 22, it will move to the fifth phase, including recreational programs for ages 18 months and up along with competitive programs.

That said, Polarettes executive director Kimberly Jones remains clear things are not back to normal.

“Families can expect a few major changes to our programming, the most noticeable will probably be how empty the gym is going to feel,” she stated in an email correspondence.

To ensure physical distancing, there are only three classes booked each hour rather than the up to seven that were the norm before COVID-19. Those entering the gym will be greeted at the door with questions about travel or any symptoms of illness. Inside there’s hand washing and sanitizing protocols and the upstairs viewing area has become a temporary lobby before a coach leads athletes downstairs for their class.

Birthday parties and the foam pit remain closed and a pre-registered open gym option has replaced drop-in.

Jones said competitive training and day camps have been successful with athletes and kids adapting to the new rules.

“Everyone has been so responsive to the changes,” she said. “Children adapt so well, most of them have managed the physical distancing well and have made the best of this really strange situation.”

While staff were nervous about the extensive cleaning, it has become a much faster process with practice and new cleaning equipment purchased.

Interest in the fall programs has been high, with nearly all 250 spots in classes full.

“We were anticipating really slow registration, but we were pleasantly surprised on Aug. 1 when we opened to returning members, we have nearly full programming already,” Jones wrote.

The number of spots available, though, has been drastically reduced from 570 to 250.

In the hopes of ensuring all those interested can take a class, a second eight-week fall session has been added with registration Oct. 1.

Soccer players have also returned to organized play and have been back on the field since July with the Whitehorse United Football Club now in the second part of its four-phase return to play plan.

The 2020 outdoor season is limited to players over the age of 10 with up to nine players per coach, meaning there are 70 players in the program this year.

WUFC administrator Travis Banks said it’s been a very different outdoor season with no games and strict guidelines. In the first phase that meant drills and each player bringing their own ball to practice.

Since phase two got underway, players can now pass and there is some limited three-on-three play, though without a goalie.

Phase three would allow for goalies and some “small-sided games” of up to seven-on-seven.

Despite the restrictions and limits on play, Banks said the season is going well.

“I think most kids are just happy to be out there,” he said.

The outdoor season is scheduled to continue into September, but it’s not known what the fall indoor season will look like.

The club has put in its requests for time at the Canada Games Centre and local schools assuming a schedule similar to the 2019 season, Banks said. Given cleaning requirements in place, those times, however, may not be available.

While planning is underway, Banks said officials may have to limit numbers and ages as it did with the outdoor season to ensure requirements are met.

“It is quite difficult,” he said of planning for the indoor season. “It is a lot of sitting and hoping.”

Registration for the Whitehorse Minor Hockey Association’s season has begun with the association publishing its return-to-play guidelines on its website.

Among the changes, which are subject to change, players will be required to show up in their gear 15 minutes before a game, coaches will not be permitted to adjust player’s skates and parents will not be permitted in the player area.

While each player can have one spectator to watch from the CGC concourse as the viewing areas are closed, it’s encouraged players over the age of nine be dropped off.

Hand sanitizing will also be required and players will have 15 minutes to leave the CGC — with gear on — following a game.

Meanwhile, the city’s own fall recreation programming at the CGC and other locales around town is also scheduled.

The fall leisure guide is now available online here with registration beginning Aug. 25.

Krista Mroz, the city’s manager of recreation and facility services, noted the city is able to offer a variety of programs with distancing measures in place, but it will be some time before aquatic programs are back on the list.

The city recently reopened the pool for registered lane swimming and water walking.

It is taking a slow, measured approach to reopening activities, and Mroz said the next step for aquatics would be hosting some drop-in classes like aquafit.

Provided those go well, the city would move to offering scheduled swimming lessons, potentially in late fall.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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