Cancellation of after-school team sports has parents, students upset

A group of parents in Halifax is voicing concern over the apparent cancellation of after-school sports in Nova Scotia's largest family of schools.

The cancellation in the Citadel zone, which includes 20 Halifax-area schools, could affect thousands of students.

Cindy Wheeler, whose son is in Grade 9 at Gorsebrook Junior High in Halifax, said the school's administration cancelled every team sport for the spring season and her son is upset. It could mean the end of his school sports experience.  

"He's missed his basketball season already, and he will now miss badminton and track and field," Wheeler said Tuesday. "He'll have a difficult time making a team at a high school level because of the competition." 

Sports teams that practise and compete in local tournaments after school can be coached by teacher and parent volunteers, but Wheeler said her understanding is the organization and management can be done by teachers only. If teachers aren't willing to volunteer their time, no teams are organized.

Teachers 'trying to make a statement'

Wheeler said she approached her son's principal at Gorsebrook to ask if she could help, and wasn't satisfied with the response.

"He said that it was just too much work to organize it and that they would decide next year how things were going to look in terms of sports," she said. 

Wheeler said she thinks the teachers' unwillingness to volunteer is a reaction to the contract imposed on the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. 

"They're trying to make a statement because they want to fight back," said Wheeler. "They want to get revenge on the government for legislating them back to work." 

Craig Bethune, another concerned parent from Halifax, wouldn't say which school his daughter attends, but said he's thankful she's involved in extracurricular club sports outside of school. He said there are no options for her at school, and no explanation for the situation.

"The answer's just been flat, 'No, we're not participating,'" said Bethune Tuesday. 

Looking for a solution

Bethune said he's heard from dozens of parents who say Halifax Central, Clayton Park, Fairview and St. Agnes junior high schools are eliminating their sports teams, and most just want to help give their kids a positive sports experience.  

"As a parent, how can we help?" Bethune asks. "There's got to be a solution here between parents, the school board and teachers. There's got to be a way that we can have our kids participate in these activities, and yet, not tax the teachers in terms of their own spare time." 

NSTU president Liette Doucette told CBC News in an email Tuesday that many teachers became overworked and have been "re-evaluating their priorities" to maintain balance in their lives. 

She added that the top concern of all teachers is providing the best possible education for students and said the decision to volunteer or not "is entirely a personal choice."

Phone calls to Halifax Central, Fairview, Clayton Park, St. Agnes and Gorsebrook junior highs for comment were not returned Tuesday.