As Michael Head checked in with classes at Sir James Dunn Academy last week, he quickly realized it was going to be tough for the school to field its usual sports teams.
The St. Andrews school usually has a boys and girls varsity soccer team, a track team, and a golf team, but COVID-19 restrictions have made finding enough players for each a challenge.
"I understand the public health directives and we accept them but it's just unfortunate," said Head, athletic director for the school.
"Part of being healthy is being active, and it's hard to be active if we don't have the numbers."
To reduce contact between students, middle school students won't be able to play for high school squads. Athletes will also only be able to play one sport per season, so someone on a cross country team wouldn't be able to play soccer too.
Head said about 12 boys have signed up to play soccer, which is just barely enough to have a team, but only nine girls have agreed to play. He said there are five strong players in Grade 8 who would've played for the girls team in a normal year.
Head said some years, a team would only take one or two middle school players, but some years it may need four or five. The school, like others in the province, has students from Grade 6 to 12 in the same building.
"Almost every school I've spoken with is struggling with some aspect of this and it all boils down to numbers," said Head.
"This is the time when the schedules would be set and we'd probably be starting to play games in the next week or so, so right now we're trying to figure out a way we can still be part of it."
In August, the province gave school sports the green light, but with restrictions. For outdoor sports, games are limited to 50 spectators, and indoor games wouldn't be allowed to have any fans.
There also won't be any unnecessary physical contact such as high-fives or handshakes, and students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 will only be able to play sports in their local area.
Andy Clark is the president of the New Brunswick Interscholastic Athletic Association, and principal at Hartland Community School, which includes Grade 6 to 12.
He said there are about 160 students in the high school so it rarely has a middle school student play up, but he knows it's a problem for some schools.
"I'm aware of a couple of schools in the southern part of the province that are concerned about fielding numbers. They kind of relied on their Grade 8's in the past," said Clark.
"Hopefully those schools are able to field teams and recruit some of their high school players maybe that don't traditionally play soccer."
Clark said this might give some players, who wouldn't necessarily make a team, a chance to be a part of school sports.
Subject to change
As it stands, school teams will only play exhibition games and only golf will have a provincial high school championship.
But Clark said the NBIAA, provincial sports bodies, and the province are in constant discussion about the rules and regulations around sport.
That means rules such as middle school students playing for high school teams, and plans for provincial championships could still be adjusted.
"All of our rules are up for change," said Clark. "Things are going to change from week to week in some situations depending on where we're at within the province."
Michael Head at Sir James Dunn Academy is still considering his options for the soccer season. He hopes more students will sign up, but if not he'll consider combining the boys and girls into one team, or playing games with less than the usual 11 on the field.
"At least in our community, we have a very active bunch of kids and for a lot of them it's the highlight of their day," he said.
But he's hoping the rule prohibiting middle school students from playing high school sports is re–examined for the winter season.
"I would like to see schools that already have Grade 8's and middle school students in their physical buildings be able to play school sports," said Head.
"I'd like to see that be one of the first areas where there could be some give."