By Matthew Liebenberg
For the Southwest Booster
School sport activities in Chinook School Division have recovered from the disrupting impact of the pandemic.
Valerie Gordon, the athletic coordinator for the South West Athletic Conference (SWAC), feels upbeat about the state of sport in the school division.
“Overall, I think we’re back to normal,” she said. “We’re out of the COVID years and building programs back up, running all our events very smoothly. I think we’re doing very well as a district offering quality school sport programs.”
SWAC coordinates and administers inter-school athletic activities in the Chinook School Division area. She presented the athletics status report at a regular Chinook School Division board meeting on May 8 and provided additional details during a media interview two days later.
“The good news this year is our participation numbers have gone up in most of our activities,” she said.
She highlighted the growing participation in golf and cross-country, but in a few cases the participation levels were down.
“We definitely have challenges in our senior badminton,” she noted. “Our numbers dropped almost in half, I would say. So that was kind of surprising to me. And our senior basketball also went down. It’s a trend that started before COVID. … From over the years it’s a bit of a struggle. But we have great ideas afoot. I’m informing committees with badminton and basketball for the fall to work with coaches to how can we support schools.”
The main issue that impacts participation in certain sport activities is the overlap with community sport in the winter and early spring.
“In smaller centres especially, our kids are pulled in multiple directions,” she said. “So we are looking at alternative ways to offer school sports in the coming years where you don’t necessarily need full teams for everything or we can adjust our dates to work around those other commitments that kids and families have so that there’s opportunity for them to participate in school sports.”
A growing trend is the use of joint sponsorships. This makes it possible for smaller schools to come together to create a team.
“We try to encourage schools to take part in a joint sponsorship only if they have no opportunity to offer that program that year at the school,” she said. “We do everything we can to get a program in a school, do a co-ed team, and then if not, we can look at a joint sponsorship if the host school or the primary school is willing to do that.”
It has been a challenge this year to find coaches, but eventually the required number of coaches were secured and there was no impact on any sport program due to a lack of coaching. According to Gordon it is an issue she is cautiously watching.
“I’m not alarmed yet that we’re seeing a little more struggles,” she said. “I think the reality is that as schools get smaller, there are less people on staff to coach or they’re spread very thin.”
She added that they are not entirely sure what might have caused the difficulty to find coaches and there might be various reasons.
“If it’s time, whether it’s commitments or whether expertise, like fearing that they don’t know enough about the sports,” she noted. “The schools did a great job finding coaches. All activities were offered in every school, because they found coaches and those people stepped up, whether it was staff members or community. It’s just something we are watching and hoping it isn’t a trend, and if it does become a trend our district will work hard to figure out what the challenges are and try to address them.”
SWAC has an established and successful volleyball mentoring program for court and minor officials. It has resulted in the development of additional certified volleyball officials. It made it possible this year for SWAC to successfully host two provincial volleyball championships on the same weekend and there are now 12 provincial level qualified officials.
“Volleyball is one of our most popular team sports and schools are doing a great job getting coaches,” she said. “We’ve got some awesome veteran people who are mentors. … Many officials that have been officiating for 20 plus years are taking younger officials or inexperienced adult officials under their wing and giving them opportunities in a safe environment to learn and we’re seeing a big uptake on our volleyball officials and the confidence to officiate at upper levels. So that’s been a really awesome program.”
There is a new diversity position on the SWAC executive and Anthony Nickel from Maple Creek is taking on this role. This initiative was spearheaded by the Saskatchewan High School Athletic Association and the intention is that every district will have a diversity position for an underrepresented population.
“We’re looking forward to the insight that Anthony can bring to our group and ways that we can improve and think outside the box if we need to,” Gordon said.
Another initiative by the Saskatchewan High School Athletic Association is the implementation of an Aboriginal coaching module that will have to be completed by all coaches. The details are still being worked out. She noted it is not unusual that coaches are required to complete mandatory course such as Respect in Sport and Making Headway concussion awareness training.
“This is just a newer one that definitely is needed,” she said. “They are now figuring out the roll-out. There’s a four-year window. So there’s time to get all of our coaches the education and training that they need in that module. … We’re really looking forward to the course to see everything that it does encompass and to just be able to learn and make sure that we are doing everything we can to support and encourage students of First Nations or Aboriginal descent to stay involved in school sports.”
By Matthew Liebenberg