Young Sask. athletes excited to return to outdoor practice fields

Outdoor sports practices are allowed starting today across Saskatchewan. It's the beginning of Phase Four in the provincial government's plan to lift COVID-19 restrictions.

Outdoor sports practices, swimming pools, day camps now allowed under Sask government's reopening plan

Anna Coghlan, 13, has been practicing in her Saskatoon backyard since COVID-19 restrictions were imposed in March. She's excited to get back to seeing her Eastside Youth Soccer Association teammates later this month. (Submitted/Nancy Coghlan)

Outdoor sports practices are allowed starting today across Saskatchewan. It's the beginning of Phase Four in the provincial government's plan to lift COVID-19 restrictions.

Softball player Elle McDonald, 13, has been working on her changeup pitch in the back yard for weeks, and can't wait to try it out on some live batters.

"I'm really excited to get back," McDonald said.

The first part of Phase Four also includes the opening of spray parks and outdoor pools. Kids' day camps will also be allowed.

McDonald said she's been itching to get back to action on the diamond, but there's something else she's looking forward to just as much. "I missed my teammates a lot," she said.

Elle McDonald, third row standing second from right, and her father, Derek, second coach from left, say they can't wait to see the rest of their Saskatoon Phantoms teammates when practices resume later this month. Here they pose for a photo last year after a tournament. (submitted/Shannon McDonald)

Her dad, Derek, and the other coaches organized video calls and training for their U14 Phantoms squad, but it wasn't the same as in-person practices or games, she said.

Derek McDonald said they conducted tryouts at an indoor facility in March just before "the whole world shut down." He said he left their games and tournaments in his digital calendar. He was just thinking about the Melfort tournament they would've played last weekend.

Derek McDonald said he's also anxious to get back, but admitted "it was a nice break" from the family's usual busy schedule.

While Elle McDonald practiced her changeup, 13-year-old Anna Coghlan was in her own backyard practicing her soccer dribbling skills. It took her countless hours, but she's now able to bounce the ball without stopping on left foot, left knee, head, right knee and right foot.

She's also excited to see her Eastside Youth Soccer Association teammates in person.

"I think it's really good. I get to see my friends and play with them," she said.

A safe return

Coaches and officials at all levels have been rushing to compile safety "return to play" protocols.

Softball Saskatchewan board member and coach Garry Burns said teams will be taking precautions as they return to outdoor practices this week, part of Phase Four of the provincial government's plan to lift COVID-19 restrictions. It includes regular cleaning of bats and balls. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Garry Burns, a longtime coach and Softball Saskatchewan board member was involved in drafting the new rules. Burns said teams will hit the diamonds this week.

The handles of shared bats will be cleaned before each player touches them. Each team will be responsible for their own balls when playing defence. If physical distance cannot be maintained in the dugout, players and coaches will stand spread out along the base lines.

Each team will nominate a safety officer and a cleaning "champion" to ensure the rules are being followed. Burns said he's confident they'll be able to do it safely.

"I know that everybody's going to do their best to physical distance and sanitize all their equipment and anything that's touched by more than one person," Burns said.

Dan Kelly, programs coordinator for Saskatoon Youth Soccer said they're "cautiously optimistic." They have a five-stage plan, which starts with players practicing individual skills.

If that goes well, they'll progress to taking shots, and eventually scrimmages against each other. He said everything will be constantly reviewed and monitored to ensure safety for everyone involved.

Restart dates for games will vary

Rob Kennedy, manager of provincial sport development for Sask Sport, said each community and sport will follow the general safety rules. But restart dates will likely vary as they work out field rentals and practice times.

He said teams are allowed to practice with each other, but it's still unclear when games against other squads will be allowed.

"There's a bit of a scramble to get things ready to go," Kennedy said. "But it's been a long few weeks since most people have been involved with sport. People are excited to get back at it."

As for children's camps at the University of Saskatchewan and elsewhere, some have been cancelled. Others have moved online. There may be camps offered later in the summer but that hasn't been finalized, officials say.


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