Local families grapple with lack of team sports, arena closures

·3 min read

Locals are waiting to see if more arenas will close for the season after the Sexsmith and District Agricultural Society shut off its arena ice plant this weekend. The closure of the plant there follows La Glace’s move to do the same.

Arenas, recreation centres and pools had to close in December amid other lockdown-like restrictions introduced by the Alberta government.

Indoor sports activities will be permitted again beginning Monday, but only if school-related, according to the Alberta government.

The ban on non-school team sports has met opposition across the province, including in the South Peace.

A handful of local children joined the province-wide #letthemplayprotest movement last week, holding signs outside Beaverlodge Arena.

Goodfare mom Melissa Fletcher said her daughter Breanne began playing hockey three years ago and is a member of the Beaverlodge Atoms.

Breanne was one of the children to join the protest in Beaverlodge. Melissa said she had spoken with other parents, leading to the Jan. 26 demonstration.

“Last year they played all the way until the end, and then they were shut down for their last two games in March,” Melissa said.

This season, Melissa said Breanne was able to play two games with Horse Lake and La Crete and attend a few practices beginning at the end of October. Then, the arenas shut down again.

Melissa said the shutdowns are unfair.

“This kids have worked really hard for something they love,” she said.

“Kids need to learn how to play in a team and about sportsmanship, and it’s helped Breanne with her shyness and her confidence in herself.”

Melissa cited the restrictions earlier this year as preferable to total closures.

These included spectators at games being limited to parents only, social distancing in the stands and mandatory masks in change rooms, she said.

Additionally, parents dropped off their kids at practices and didn’t stick around, she said.

“Everybody seemed to follow the rules, whether we liked it or not, and when people were sick they stayed home,” Melissa said. She said there could still be some hockey season to salvage, possibly extending it into April.

Outdoor rinks can remain open under the restrictions, but Melissa noted Beaverlodge’s Greg Walker Memorial Arena is limited to a 10-person capacity.

Moreover, since the Fletchers live out of town it’s difficult to come in to use it, she said.

Clint Froehlick, Sexsmith Arena manager, said the ice plant was shut down for the season Saturday for financial reasons.

Froehlick estimated the ag society has lost approximately $50,000 in revenue since April 2020. Ice plant expenses vary by month, he said.

Numerous families in Sexsmith have reached out to the ag society inquiring about whether it can re-open, he said.

It would be difficult to keep the arena open for field trips only, Froehlick said.

Prior to December the arena had been open without showers or concession, and masks were mandatory. Capacity was limited to 100 and users could only arrive 15 minutes before scheduled ice time, he said.

As a result, Sexsmith Minor Hockey released a statement via social media the season is cancelled. President Jamie Skjeie was unavailable for comment.

“I am in full support of the ag society in their decision to remove the ice,” said Sexsmith mayor Kate Potter.

“With the province's re-opening plan, there is no guarantee that they will be able to re-open this season.”

Under the phased plan for eased restrictions, adult team sports would only be allowed when Alberta falls to 300 hospitalizations.

Potter acknowledged the closure is unfortunate for Sexsmith families, and recommended use of the town’s outdoor rinks.

Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News