Students from three different school boards in Windsor-Essex were at Kennedy Collegiate Institute Monday to protest the cancellation of this year's high school football season.
Joseph Fillion, a Grade 12 student from École secondaire catholique l'Essor, a French-language Catholic school in Tecumseh, has been playing football since he was six years old. He said he is saddened by the decision.
"It's not only hurting the players, it's hurting the community because a lot of us volunteer at a lot of places to help out. That's what a lot of coaches tell us and it's always what we've been taught to do," Fillion said.
Fillion had high hopes to pursue football at the professional level. As did Sonny Chantler.
The Grade 12 student from W.F. Herman Academy, also has his sights set on the pro leagues. Last year he missed out on recruitment opportunities when school sports were cancelled due to COVID-19.
He said he was hoping to play this year, to improve his chances at an athletic scholarship. He called the decision, "heartbreaking."
"I feel like if all other sports are a go, I feel like football should be a go because a lot of kids use this sport to take their minds off of the stress of school, said Chantler. "But also some kids like me are trying to use this as a career."
Last week, Windsor and Essex County Secondary Schools Athletic Association (WECSSAA) along with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, Greater Essex County District School Board and Conseil scolaire catholique Providence released a joint statement confirming high school football was cancelled for 2021.
The main reason for the decision was due to equipment safety, particularly the safety certification of helmets.
According to the joint statement, football helmets must be certified by the manufacturer on an annual basis to meet safety standards. It's estimated the process takes six weeks or more. Once certification is complete, teams are required to hold 10 practices with full padding before the season can begin.
Chantler does not believe helmet safety is the real reason for cancelling the season.
"They've come up with a bunch of reasons, like helmets aren't certified, it's unsafe, all that kind of stuff," he said. "I really just think they don't want the sport just because of the liability costs," he said.
'Dropped the ball'
Gino Facca, a father of a Herman Academy student and football player, has been writing letters to each of the school boards and he has requested a meeting with the Greater Essex County District School Board — hoping the powers that be will change their minds.
"I want to make sure that I have my moment to tell the board and WECSSAA that we can still make this happen," Facca said.
Facca has also reached out to equipment companies who are able to make the deadline for updated helmets as well as getting confirmation of certification from coaching staff.
"They just dropped the ball entirely on getting these helmets certified," he said.
Facca, along with trustee members and the public school board will be present at a meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 1 to discuss the decision.
'Return to normalcy'
Christopher Abeare, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Windsor, and team member of the University's Sports Related Concussion Centre, says the decision is unfortunate, given what he called the "opportunity costs."
"Some of these athletes are in their last year of high school and therefore may have lost out on all opportunity to play at the varsity level in high school and it may have detrimental effects on their ability to be recruited for collegiate football and to earn scholarships," Abeare said.
"It's really a shame that something that cannot be done to remedy this situation."
Abeare says he understands the safety concerns. He cited one study which showed it's typical for between five to 10 per cent of athletes to suffer from a concussion during one season of football.
He clarified that one single concussion doesn't necessarily result in any serious long-term effects, said the risks do increase for athletes who have multiple concussions.
"Some people who've had multiple concussions, we're talking like five to 10 concussions, they may start having a lower concussion threshold as well, where it takes less force to their head to cause a concussion," he said.
Abeare thinks the school boards should try to rectify the situation and bring back the season for the sake of mental health.
"This is all happening in the context of a global pandemic where children and youth mental health is at all time low," said Abeare.
"This would represent some semblance of returning to normal and its a much needed time in terms of mental health," he said.