On a Monday afternoon in Toronto, dozens of soccer players were finally walking back to the natural grass field at Chaminade College School, and the moist air was filled with the smell of sweat, mud, and freshly cut turf.
“It definitely smells like football,” said science teacher and receivers coach Diane Valinho. “It’s the best season ever.”
It had been 678 days since the Gryphons were last allowed to practice, meaning that many players on the field had already lost more than a full season from their high-school careers. Toronto Public Health allowed the school board to resume outdoor extracurricular activities and sports on September 20, two weeks after the start of the new school year, and the team was to play its first game on October 15.
It was worthwhile returning to the field for the children wearing gold helmets and shoulder pads. He, like so many teenagers across the country, had endured some of the most dramatic changes wrought by Canada’s pandemic shutdowns. More than any other student group, they missed out on experiences of a lifetime, Including prom and championship games.
“Let’s be real,” said Ms. Valinho, “a lot of them come to school to play football, play sports. It gives them a drive. It keeps them focused.”
In Monday’s two-hour practice, the players were concentrating on practice as it rained on the ground. But in moments of stealth, there was a smile and a pat on the back, helping a player pick him up after doing his pushups. In one exercise, as the coach ran through a play, a broad smile crossed the face of a defensive tackle as he stood atop a guard.
Sylton Osmond’s eyes lit up and he smiled as he remembered the last time he played on the field. He was in grade 9, part of the junior team two years ago, and the stands were full of friends and family cheering the Griffons on as they won their game.
“It was a wonderful day. I loved seeing the people in the stands, watching the fans. It felt like I was playing professionally,” he said.
Mr Osmond, 15, is a wide receiver. He dreams of playing at the university, and then maybe professionally.
His lost year of football would have been his chance to be the big kid on the junior team, a leader to his younger teammates. Instead, he spent his time in lockdown training at his home, hoping to return to the sport, which had been a big part of his school life. Mr Osmond said he has been fully vaccinated to protect himself and those around him, but also because it allows him to compete in school sports.
“Being in the pads again, I am ready for this season,” he said before joining his teammates on the field.
In any other year, the exercises would have started in August. Head coach Pat Diodati said he heard frustration among students in the hallways when local public health officials recommended a moratorium on extracurriculars at the start of the school year.
Only after pressure from students and teachers Did Toronto Public Health change direction and call To a gradual return to extra-curricular activities, starting with outdoor activities.
The students were itching to return, said Mr. Diodati, a career and religion teacher at the all-boys Catholic high school. “Immediately, people came to me asking, ‘So, is there a season?’ I’m like, ‘Wait, I’ll have a meeting and get it straightened out and I’ll let you know.'”
Around 50 students attempted for Sr. Football team (typically, the Griffons have a senior team for older students and a junior team for younger ones). About 70 teenagers tried out for the final Frisbee (there are 20 players on the team) and 85 took part in soccer tryouts (18 made it to the team).
It will be a short season for most sports, but it matters little to the players. “The kids just need to do something,” said Mr. Diodati. “At least he has a chance to play. We had it so we’re going to do it.”
Not all schools have resumed outdoor sports and activities, and parents have raised concerns that their children are missing. School officials say pandemic restrictions have made it difficult for sports to resume, even though provincial governments have indicated they should resume. Some schools are only playing intramural games.
Some teachers are reluctant to volunteer as trainers because they are concerned about the spread of the virus. And the rules of masking and distancing, especially when it comes to changing rooms and settling in for games, can be tough.
Even though teens are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, public health officials are panicking that the highly transmissible Delta strain could disrupt schooling. School boards in the Windsor area in southwestern Ontario have not resumed extra-curricular activities after the local health unit advised sports and clubs to delay until officials find a way to resume them safely. Don’t take it out
In Chaminade, grade 11 student Gabriel Santarelli said he would be lost if he missed another year of the game. During the lockdown, he lifted weights in his garage, ran his exercises in his driveway and backyard, and practiced in the park with his friends. He is a linebacker in the team.
“It was really hard being locked in the house, not being able to play,” he said. “It’s one of the things that drives me forward, just being on a team with brotherhood, and being on a team of people who want to achieve the same thing as you, which is to try and get ahead, playing in college. Has, hopefully even merits.”
As he put on his pads in the dressing room, Mr. Orangeley could feel the excitement building up behind the mask as well.
“We’re getting ready inside, everyone was laughing, laughing,” he said. “I’ve never seen a bunch of people dressed so quickly to be back here.”
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