Border restrictions force Windsor student to make tough choices to chase NCAA soccer scholarship goal

·3 min read
Avery Comartin, a Grade 12 student who is set to enter Holy Names Catholic High School in Windsor, has been dreaming of getting a scholarship to an NCAA school, but border issues are interfering with her goal.  (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC - image credit)
Avery Comartin, a Grade 12 student who is set to enter Holy Names Catholic High School in Windsor, has been dreaming of getting a scholarship to an NCAA school, but border issues are interfering with her goal. (Darrin Di Carlo/CBC - image credit)

A Windsor family is anxiously waiting for the border to reopen fully so Avery Comartin can pursue soccer practice with her U.S. league and work towards her dream of earning a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) scholarship.

"I can't imagine not playing soccer for the next four years of my life. I will move over there [to the U.S.] if I have to, but it's not ideal," says Avery, who's set to enter Grade 12 at Holy Names Catholic High School in the southwestern Ontario city next month.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Avery had been crossing the border to play with the youth Elite Clubs National League (ECNL), at the Vardar Soccer Club in Michigan.

For years, her goal has been to be recruited for an NCAA scholarship that would allow her to play for an associated university.

But her efforts got sidetracked once Canada-U.S. borders closed in March 2020. The borders remain closed to Canadians for non-essential travel, even though Canada has eased restrictions on Americans who are fully vaccinated and get negative COVID-19 tests.

Scholarships go to select student athletes

Last year was a crucial one for the teen, as U.S. soccer interests focus on seeking out talented players her age to recruit to U.S. schools.

Each year, NCAA Divisions I and II schools give out more than $3.6 billion US in athletics scholarships to over 180,000 student athletes. However, only about two per cent of high school athletes are awarded scholarships for college competition.

The pandemic has Avery and other potential Canadian scholarship recipients at a disadvantage, as it has interfered with their ability to play and practise in the U.S.

Darrin Di Carlo/CBC
Darrin Di Carlo/CBC

Hoping to find Avery an exemption to cross the border for practices with her Michigan league, her father, Chad Comartin, says he reached out to Canada's minister of health and the minister of public safety last October.

He said he never heard back.

Comartin also turned to the offices of his local Liberal and NDP MPs.

"They're doing what they can. They're trying to help us, but no action so far," he said.

Over the past year, Comartin thought it would be easier to cross the border for practices due to the accessibility of COVID-19 vaccines.

"We have vaccines and there is risk mitigation available to her. We think she should be able to continue to pursue that cross the border where that's really where she has to be to pursue it [a scholarship]," he said.

Avery says she now must decide whether to complete her final year at Holy Names Catholic High School in person but miss more time with her Michigan league, or enrol virtually with the Windsor school and move to the U.S. so she'd be able to play on her U.S. team, with hopes of being recruited by an NCAA school.

COVID-19 tests needed too

"It's been a tough year for her," her dad said. "She was hoping Grade 12, her final year, would be normal — see her friends, see her classmates. But to keep her soccer dream alive, she has to move."

Darrin Di Carlo/CBC
Darrin Di Carlo/CBC

A decision on whether the U.S. will reopen the border to Canadians is expected to be made by Saturday.

Comartin said even if it does open for non-essential travel and Avery remains in Canada, she would have to pay for PCR COVID-19 tests each time she crosses for practice, part of the rules for border travel.

Ideally, Comartin would like to see the border fully open and Avery not required to have so many PCR tests.

"That would allow for the best of both worlds," her father said.

"I think it's something that can relatively be done easily. It just takes some political will."

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