Manitoba·Point of View

Steinbach student slam dunks sports withdrawal during pandemic

High school student Ayesha Badiola has been journaling life during the pandemic, without her beloved team sports. "In our high school bubble ... athletics are starting to make a slow comeback, but bleachers are still empty," she says.

In her latest back-to-school diary, Ayesha Badiola finds a winning strategy for team sports

Juggling team sports with safety is tricky during the pandemic, says Ayesha Badiola. 'In our high school bubble ... athletics are starting to make a slow comeback, but bleachers are still empty.' (Submitted by Ayesha Badiola)

Steinbach high school student Ayesha Badiola is journaling her return to school in the southern Manitoba city during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When the pandemic struck, the world of sports came to a halt. With Thursday night football, Hockey Night in Canada and March Madness being traditions in many lives, waves of shock flooded the globe. 

As a basketball fanatic, the vanishiment of the NBA and high school sports left me staring at my ceiling. Time kept ticking despite the lack of action. What would I do without jaw-dropping plays and unexpected upsets? 

Since I am still here today, it's safe to say that I overcame the absence. (Thank you, NBA League Pass.)

For student athletes, brimming schedules kept them busy. The new year was the dawn of club seasons and spring athletics. Many prepared for weekend travels, longer days and dreaded sore muscles. 

Flash forward to November 2020. 

The community support surrounding Sabres athletics is astounding.- Ayesha Badiola

It's been around eight months since normalcy. Now, professional leagues are back in business. The NBA bubble provided exhilarating performances with the Lakers taking the Larry O' Brien home. On the ice, the Tampa Bay Lightning battled it out for glory

In our high school bubble in Manitoba, athletics are starting to make a slow comeback, but bleachers are still left empty.

The community support surrounding Sabres athletics is astounding.

Without crowds rallying in games, this year hasn't been the same. Whether it's a packed house at the University of Manitoba or the downpour amid football action, the cancellations are evident. Uncertainties aside, let's meet some student athletes (and a coach!) who are powering through the pandemic.

Reconciled at last

Charley Sonsona is a Grade 11 student at Steinbach Regional Secondary School and plays volleyball for Providence University's Junior Pilots. She plays as power, left side and libero — talk about versatility!

Charley Sonsona (centre, No. 3) -- seen in this photo taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic -- understood the need to pause team sports since then. 'You don't want to risk anyone's life,' she says. (Paul Reimer)

For Sonsona, reality settled in when events, tournaments and in-person classes started getting cancelled. Like many student athletes across Manitoba, packed weeks transformed into online school and virtual meetings. This adjustment led to questions. 

"Everything started crumbling and it's like, oh my gosh … what do I do?" Sonsona said.

She had a promising club season ahead of her, with the team already winning a medal in their second tournament. Her teammates shared her devastation, yet understood the circumstances.

"It was a good decision because you don't want to risk anybody's life," Sonsona said. 

Despite the rise of cases, Volleyball Manitoba, Hanover School Division and Steinbach Regional Secondary School recently created a return-to-play plan, which allows students to start practising in a safe environment. While game-day jitters and exhilaration sit back, the feeling of reuniting on the court is a blessing. 

Back to basics

What does football look like without contact? Just ask Grade 10 student Hailey Friesen, a defensive back for Steinbach Regional's junior varsity football squad. 

"It's very strange. There's no padding, no helmets, no contact, no nothing like that," Friesen said. 

Hailey Friesen -- seen in this photo taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic -- says she misses the community aspect of sports: 'It’s exciting going into a game and getting an adrenaline rush.' (Paul Reimer)

Pandemic practices come with their benefits. They consist of learning plays and tackling and catching drills. It allows players to focus on fundamentals that are critical to success. Friesen describes it as a "refresher."

What exactly do they tackle? Don't worry, not each other. They use bags that are frequently sanitized. Players are also required to fill out a form before entering practice. 

Like Sonsona, Friesen also misses the community aspect of sports. 

"I love the bus rides — they're always super fun and energetic," Friesen said. "It's exciting going into a game and getting an adrenaline rush."

While games are currently scratched out on our lists, Friesen still has hope for a spring season — fingers crossed!

Through a teacher's eyes 

Henry Kasdorf is Hanover School Division's physical health education co-ordinator. In a pandemic-less year, he would be coaching boys' volleyball and teaching each gym class for an hour.

Instead, his days consist of two-and-a-half-hour classes and developing return-to-play plans. 

Outside of school hours, the status of extracurricular activities is dependent on a student's sport. Some are left waiting, while others, like Sonsona and Friesen, are practising. 

Student athletes … will come back stronger and more passionate than before.- Ayesha Badiola

From the provincial sport organization's protocols, the safety of students and the approval of parents, there are many factors when it comes to creating return-to-play plans. Finding the balance between safety and normalcy is critical. 

"We want to keep our kids safe, but we also know that there is lots of passion for sports," Kasdorf said. 

Current conditions in our province prevent competitive play. Sabres teams usually compete against Winnipeg teams and surrounding schools. With code reds and oranges assigned to towns and cities across the province, travel is limited. 

"I just miss the normalcy of a regular year where we have zone competitions and provincial championships," Kasdorf said. "There are lots of excitements about these things, not just for student athletes but for a school itself."

I second that. 

The future of high school athletics

The pandemic determines when competitive play and practices with contact can resume. 

Though we may not know when games return, all we know is that student athletes across the province will come back stronger and more passionate than before. 

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Ayesha Badiola is a high school student who grew up in the Philippines, before her family relocated to Steinbach, Man. She loves "hoops, writing and reporting," and hopes to one day cover the Toronto Raptors as a journalist or a sideline reporter.