Nfld. & Labrador

Out-of-bounds school gyms sidelining many indoor sports in N.L.

Coaches and parents in N.L. say many young people are missing out on competitive sports and fitness opportunities because school gyms are not available for rentals during the pandemic.

School gyms in N.L. aren't available for rentals during the COVID-19 pandemic

Castlena Colbourne of Pasadena and Oliver Drover of Corner Brook are back playing the sport they love, thanks to their enrolment in a basketball program run by the West Coast Basketball Association at the recreation centre in Pasadena. (Submitted by Melissa Colbourne/Tracey Drover)

Parents and coaches say many young people who love indoor sports in Newfoundland and Labrador are out in the cold this fall.

Indoor after-school sports aren't taking place as usual during this school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the school district also isn't permitting school gymnasium rentals to community groups.

In many parts of the province, school gyms are the only indoor sports venues available, so the options are very limited.

There are gymnasium facilities available for rent in St. John's and Pasadena and, as of Oct. 2, the Civic Centre annex in Corner Brook will also be available for user groups. But that still leaves huge areas of the province without any access.

"It means we have nothing to do," said Corey King, a volleyball coach in Grand Falls-Windsor.

"No sports are going to be available. Gyms are not going to be available."

Melissa Colbourne and her seven-year-old daughter, Castlena, get ready to head out to a pre-pandemic basketball game. (Submitted by Melissa Colbourne)

Pay to play

Melissa Colbourne of Pasadena wanted her three children to get back to their favourite sport, so she paid registration fees to a basketball organization that rents space at the town's recreation centre, Pasadena Place.

The West Coast Basketball Association program that runs out of the facility draws participants from other municipalities, including Deer Lake and Corner Brook.

Colbourne said it doesn't make sense to her that it's considered safe to have young people from different towns come together to play, when they could all be playing after-school sports with fellow students in their own school gymnasium.

"Having these three, four, or five school communities come together contradicts cohorts," she said, referring to grouping students within schools to make it easier to do contact tracing.

"I'm not quite sure how bringing all these children from different student bodies together to play a high-contact sport is actually demonstrating cohorting to our children," said Colbourne.

The Exploits Force club team in Grand Falls-Windsor, coached by Corey King, were planning to take part in provincials and in the JVA World Challenge in Louisville, Kentucky last spring. Both events were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Corey King)

Declining fitness

Basketball coach Tom Stewart said the lack of access to venues for indoor sports raises other concerns related to children and teenagers missing out on the benefits of exercise.

"Currently under COVID, schools are out of bounds to all organizations," he said.

Our goal is to see active lifestyles enhanced.- Tom Stewart, basketball coach

Stewart, the regional director for Western Newfoundland with the Newfoundland and Labrador Basketball Association, said families like the Colbournes may avail of paid programs like the one with which he's involved in Pasadena, run by the West Coast Basketball Association.

But where facilities aren't available or the cost is too high for a family, Stewart said the lack of indoor sports will directly affect the fitness level of children and youth.

"Ultimately, our goal is to see active lifestyles enhanced," said Stewart.

"You have a lot of children who normally avail of school programming, which is not there, or avail of other club programming, which is not there. And so there's a level of fitness and health that would be lacking for children in the community."

Parent and coach James Carpenter is calling for school gyms to be available for school-based teams to practise and compete. He says the low incidence of COVID-19 in N.L. means it can be done safely. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

A rallying cry for school sports

Stewart is not alone in his concerns about fitness and access to competitive indoor sports.

Coach and parent James Carpenter's concerns about the lack of indoor venues have prompted him to call for school-based sports to be reinstated in spite of the pandemic.

"Provincial sports organizations have come up with plans to be able to resume their activities. I was just really confused as to why we wouldn't be able to do the same at the school level," said Carpenter.

He said in a province with no community spread of COVID-19, he sees no reason why school gyms can't be used after hours by school-based teams as well as community groups.

"We really need to get things back up and moving just to help the kids. In addition to the fact that they're now back at their academics, I think they equally need to go back to school sports," said Carpenter.

Carpenter has started a Facebook page called "Reinstate Indoor School Sports," which quickly gathered a following of more than 5,000 people.

He said with the only way to participate in indoor sports right now being on a user-pay basis, he's worried about sports becoming more elitist and out of reach for most families.

"Right off the bat now, you're going to limit the number of people who can actually play, because those programs aren't cheap," said Carpenter.

"And I can't see how that's fair to everybody."

There are 128 youths from the Humber Valley and Corner Brook region registered for the basketball program run by the West Coast Basketball Association at Pasadena Place. (Submitted by Tom Stewart)

Student access a priority

In a response to questions about the issue, a district spokesperson referred CBC to the district's website, which states, "As our focus in the 2020-21 school year must be on the continued health and safety of students and staff, the district expects to see continued suspension of community use of schools to prioritize student access."

The website also states, "It is anticipated that some select usage for after-school programs which involve students will be provided with access under clearly established guidelines."

Skills development concerns

Coaches Corey King and Tom Stewart say the lack of competition for youth in the province this year will inevitably put some high-level athletes behind in their development.

"No doubt we have some athletes in central [Newfoundland] that would probably be eligible for some university ball come next year," said King.

"Being here in central is going to put them behind the eight ball, because they're not going to be able to train indoors at all," he said.

Stewart agrees it's to the detriment of young people who might want to pursue a higher level of competition, such as trying out for a provincial team.

"In terms of the serious player, that sets them back a year," said Stewart.

"If they were considering making their high school team, if they're a junior high player now, or if they're considering going on to play provincial ball, that sets them back a year if they're lacking a facility."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Bernice Hillier is a host of CBC Newfoundland Morning, which airs weekday mornings across western and central Newfoundland, as well as southern Labrador.

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