Golden Hawk players and coaches “disappointed” but not surprised by fall sports cancellation

Photo by Darien Funk

On Monday, June 8, USPORTS, the overarching national brand in charge of university sports in Canada, announced the cancellation of fall term National Championships.

“It is not currently feasible or safe due to the COVID-19 pandemic for USPORTS to be able to offer fall championships given the academic realities of student-sport,” a statement from USPORTS read.

The decision came through consultation with the four provincial conferences and the 56 member universities as well as in accordance with the public health guidelines that have been laid out. As a result of this, the OUA has announced the cancellation of all fall term sanctioned sports and events until Dec. 31, 2020.

The OUA followed suit with the national USPORTS statement.

“The health of our student-athletes, coaches, administrators, officials, and fans is our number one priority, and after significant consultation, we believe that OUA sport cannot be delivered prior to Dec. 31,” the announcement read.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused great uncertainty and change in almost every sector around the world and that is no different for sports. While the announcement of there being no fall sports competition is certainly devastating to everyone, it did not come as a surprise.

“It sucks from a personal standpoint. So many falls as a player and coach have been occupied by the sport I love, but the people you think about the most are the players and especially the senior players,” Laurier football coach, Michael Faulds said.

Coach Faulds shared an equal display of disappointment for his players, but also relief as he had his players prepared for what he believed was inevitable news.

“First off, it’s not like it was very sudden and that’s a part of it. Right from when the lockdown started in the beginning of March, we’ve been optimistic, but as time went along, even as early as April, I had a feeling that this news was coming based on how the pandemic was going and how the virus was spreading.”

The cancellation directly impacts Coach Faulds and his football team as football is one of the most prominent fall-only sports across Canada. While the pandemic is still evolving and there remains grave uncertainty about its course, Coach Faulds tried to keep his players positive and updated with the realities.

“We were very good with preparation. We were not trying to tell the players what they wanted to hear. When the news finally broke, none of us were shocked, part of it was a relief because we knew the news was coming and at least now it is finally out in the public,” Coach Faulds said.

Men’s basketball coach, Justin Serresse echoed the message of Coach Faulds, displaying disappointment but also relief in the announcement becoming official.

“I don’t think they were surprised. From the jump we knew that first term sports were in jeopardy, we were mentally prepared for the news. When the announcement came out, I do not think anyone was surprised,” Coach Serresse said.

While all sanctioned programming and competition for the fall has been cancelled, the OUA announced that individual institutions are responsible for developing a plan to return to train at their facilities in accordance with public health guidelines.

While some schools across the country have opened their facilities with the advancement into stage three of the phased back re-opening, Laurier has still not announced their protocols for opening the athletic complex and allowing their varsity teams to train.

This issue was particularly of concern for Coach Serresse, as he believes some limited training should be allowed in order to develop the young players and keep them in a good mindset.

“While I don’t think it’s realistic to think about team practice, my biggest concern with the league and school is to allow the players to have guidelines for returning to play,” Coach Serresse said.

“Not necessarily games or to compete but just to be able to develop these guys and allow them to grow. If we don’t allow the players to be in the gym to get better at their craft, how will they be able to take school seriously? There is a trickle-down effect that could be scary,” he said.

Coach Serresse is hoping to be able to have a phased re-opening, allowing a limited number of players to practice. He spoke about a plan that could include having two to three players allowed in the gym at a time and then developing a schedule that would allow for the development of the athletes.

Men’s hockey coach Greg Puhalski and Coach Paul Falco of the Women’s Basketball team agreed with Coach Serresse’s statement and the importance of allowing their players to train, even in a limited capacity.

“While we haven’t heard training news yet for the fall, we are hopeful to have some individual or group training allowed in the fall,” Coach Falco said.

“As far as our players—they are disappointed, but they all understand the situation, and you could see that a situation like this could happen. Our guys are generally pretty good, and it is my role to make sure we stay connected and move forward together for when we can return to the ice,” Coach Puhalski stated.

Considering many of the pandemic restrictions were put in place after the conclusion of the 2019-2020 Laurier sports year, many of the coaches believe that the reality of this announcement will hit the players much harder once the fall term starts.

“At this particular time, not much has changed in the lives of our players, they are going through their summer routine. I think September is when it will really hit the guys right between the eyes, the reality of not having hockey to play,” Coach Puhalski said.

With the Athletic Complex and University Stadium still under a shutdown, team operations and training will look a lot different in the fall.

Both the women’s and men’s basketball teams are conducting weekly strength and conditioning workouts through an app on their smartphones. Coach Serresse and Coach Falco can monitor and give advice to their team based on performances and drills that are conducted through the app.

Coach Faulds says he will continue to hold regular meetings over zoom with his players and has also managed to develop strength and conditioning workouts for his players.

Second-year running back, Tanner Nelmes and USPORTS All-Canadian guard Ali Sow, both spoke about the disappointment of the news.

“Not being able to be on the football field in September is disappointing, but as a team, we understand the realities,” Nelmes said.

Both USPORTS and the OUA have stated that the anticipated plan is to return to competition in the winter term. Constant consultation with health experts, drafting of contingency plans and discussions with the 50 plus member universities will continue as they believe there will be another announcement regarding winter term sports in the fall.

Even though national leagues, such as the MLB, NHL, NBA and Premier League have restarted or will soon restart, Coach Faulds has doubts about the co-existence of sports and this virus.

“You look no further than to the States, where there is loads and loads of money like theUniversity of Alabama and the University of Texas and they have had several cases… my fear is that until a vaccine is readily available and accessible, team sports will take a back seat,” CoachFaulds said.

His concern is valid as even the top North American leagues, who have vast amounts of resources and a large amount of money have already encountered problems due to the pandemic. The MLB season which started less than a week ago is under increasing jeopardy now as 17 players and coaches have tested positive on the Miami Marlins

.While many players and coaches are disappointed about a fall with no sports, they understand the challenges and risks associated with having sports back. The OUA is certainly monitoring the fallout of the return to sports by these major leagues, including the first Canadian professional league to return, the CEBL (Canadian Elite BasketballLeague).

With many factors to consider and player health and safety at the forefront, the OUA will continue to work hard under the direction of its board of directors, USPORTS and medical experts to develop a plan for university sports to return in the winter.

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