Sask. youth sports leagues struggling to keep up with Omicron variant

·4 min read
The Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association announced it was postponing all games this week for its U7, U9, U11 and U13 age divisions because the league found it was too difficult to keep track of which teams were able to play. (Shooter Bob Squar/Shutterstock - image credit)
The Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association announced it was postponing all games this week for its U7, U9, U11 and U13 age divisions because the league found it was too difficult to keep track of which teams were able to play. (Shooter Bob Squar/Shutterstock - image credit)

It's been a tough week for the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association.

On Tuesday, the league announced it was postponing all games this week for its U7, U9, U11 and U13 age divisions because it was too difficult to keep track of which teams were able to play.

As of Thursday, more than 50 teams in the league were unable to play, either because there were too many players who were close contacts of someone who had tested positive for COVID, or because there was an infected player on the team.

"In the last four to four to five days, it's gone exponentially higher," said executive director Kelly Boes.

"We honestly cannot keep up dealing with the cases and trying to get the notifications out for which games need to be cancelled."

Boes said the situation is more complicated for players under the age of 12, who have not yet been able to get double vaccinated. As a result, any young player who has been a close contact must not attend extracurricular events for 10 days.

The league is allowing players with cancelled games to use the ice time to practice, as long as there are no positive cases on the team.

The number of cases of COVID-19 continues to rise across Saskatchewan. On Wednesday, there were 8,706 known active cases in the province, an increase of 477 cases from the day before. Those numbers don't include people who tested positive on a rapid test alone, or asymptomatic people.

At least one family is taking the news in stride and hoping that games will resume next week.

Tyson Almasi has two children in hockey that are missing out on games this week in Saskatoon. Almasi said he and his family are happy that the league is being cautious, but hopes that games won't be delayed for very long.

"Everything changes by the day. Tomorrow, it could be a totally different story," he said.

"I hope this doesn't last longer than a week or else I don't think we know what the end game looks like anymore."

Hockey Saskatchewan said Saskatoon is the only league to completely shut down over Omicron-related issues, although there have been cases of regional shutdowns since leagues began to play.

Hockey Sask. general manager Kelly McClintock said it was a good decision to make.

"They're making decisions in the best interests of their members," said McClintock.

"It was probably an easy decision for Saskatoon minor hockey to make. It wasn't one that they want to make, but they've got to look at doing something in the best interests of everybody."

Hockey Saskatchewan said scheduling issues have been difficult, and that many people are contacting the organization for information about what constitutes a close contact and general clarity around current rules.

Soccer strife

Impacts of the Omicron variant aren't just limiting themselves to hockey. According to Saskatoon Youth Soccer, there have been 19 positive cases in league players since Monday, impacting 32 teams.

League president Mark Millard said the association is holding a meeting with all zone presidents to assess the situation this week. He said it's possible the league will also take some time off to assess the situation, although that's not the preferred option.

"It's not an easy decision because obviously we want to keep the kids playing," he said.

"We want to keep them engaged, obviously, for their mental health. But at the same time, it comes down to a situation where, if this becomes too much or too overwhelming, or too many teams have been dropping out and rescheduling, etc., the health and safety of our athletes obviously comes first."

Millard said he's in regular conversations with both families and young players. He said they're cautious but also very well-informed.

"They're very much aware of how things are going," he said.

"They also know that we're doing everything we possibly can."

Omicron has forced the cancellations of many athletic events in the province, including the Saskatchewan Winter Games, the Luther Invitational Tournament in Regina and the Bedford Road Invitational Tournament in Saskatoon.

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