COVID-19 restrictions putting Ottawa ringette leagues on thin ice

Restrictions around the size of gatherings in arenas and a potential drop-off in new players has the president of eastern Ontario's largest minor ringette association losing sleep.

Association president worries about low registration, a potential outbreak

Goalie Hannah West makes a save in a ringette game. Her mother says she'll keep playing the sport during COVID-19, but the head of Ottawa's largest ringette association is concerned about what the restrictions will mean for the sport's future. (Submitted)

The head of one of Ottawa's largest ringette associations says the novel coronavirus may be the biggest opponent the sport's ever faced.

The City of Ottawa Ringette Association (CORA) opened fall registration last week, under city restrictions that permit no more than 20 players on the ice at one time and no more than 25 in a rink.

Those factors mean not only will there be no actual games played this fall, but also that parents and spectators won't be allowed in the arena, said CORA president Phyllis Bergmans.

"We're handcuffed for sure," said Bergmans.

By this point in a typical summer, the association would have collected registration fees from about 400 players between the ages of five and 18.

So far, for this season — which also won't feature travel and tournaments, replaced by what Bergmans has dubbed "skills, drills and thrills" — only about 300 registrations have come in.

The association, Bergmans said, will form squads of 10 players who will stick together and be given two ice times per week, times they'll share with another squad.

Bergmans said getting enough players out this season, while also covering all the ice time costs, will be big challenges.

"Financially, this could ruin us," she said.

Members of an under-16 CORA team pose with silver medals won at Quebec tournament last year. (Submitted)

Outbreak could be devastating

Some parents, said Bergmans, have indicated they simply aren't comfortable with the health risks they or their daughters could face.

Others are not interested in paying hundreds of dollars for a fall session of scrimmages and practice.

Beyond those concerns, Bergmans — also the mother of a player who's just aged out of the league — said she's lost sleep over the implications of a COVID-19 outbreak involving the association.

For both squads, ringette would come to an end, and she suspects that if the refund deadline hasn't passed, many parents will want their money back — even though the ice time bills will still have to be paid. 

"We don't have a lot of margin of error," she said. 

The association also relies on "Come Try Ringette" nights and other events to refill the development pipeline for the "fringe sport," said Bergmans, as older girls move on.

Those nights have been called off due to COVID-19, and Bergmans said that has her fearing the game could possibly go extinct.

'Life is different'

Many players, like Emily West's daughter Hannah, are staying committed to ringette, however.

"I think she realizes that life is different this year in general," said West, whose daughter has played the sport for 10 years.

West said even a fall session without the travel, tournaments and league rivalries is one she wouldn't miss.

She said the sport and its place in her daughter's social and mental life are too important to go without.

"She's looking forward to getting back together with old friends," West said.

Bergmans said she and the association hope things will return to normal by the start of the January 2021 session.

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