THOMAS: Let them play: Junior season far safer than crowded classrooms

There is no reason organizations with viable return to action plans such as the Alberta Junior Hockey League should remain sidelined.

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If the standard for safety is 30 or more children in a crowded classroom, there is absolutely no reason to continue to sideline junior hockey.

It has been a week since the school relaunch and already, one student in Alberta has tested positive for COVID-19. Forcing his entire class to get tested and begin quarantining themselves as a result.

However, the United Conservative Party is adamant their return to school plan is as detailed as it can get. Premier Jason Kenney admitted COVID-19 will spread in schools. In the eyes of the provincial government, the benefits to the economy far outweigh the risks associated with the possibilities of children getting sick in schools and spreading COVID-19 to their greater communities.

Prior to schools opening I penned a column with the opinion that the school relaunch is an experiment and students are the guinea pigs under the premise if the province could pull off sending students back to school, there would be no conceivable reason not to move firmly into Phase Three of the Alberta relaunch process. The phase which would allow for junior hockey to occur.

Currently, AJHL teams are in a development season which will go on indefinitely until a plan for the regular season can be announced.

With case numbers on the rise, protests popping up across the province and tensions between teachers, school boards and the provincial government on the rise, it is hard to argue the experiment has gone totally according to plan. Still, the government remains determined to push on.

It isn’t going to matter if 100 students test positive next week, they are not going to lift a finger to reduce the number of students in schools.

Given the fact young people are not usually hit as hard by the virus and their guidelines have instructed students to stay away from visiting family if they are returning to school, the UCP are playing the odds. If that is the case.

If students can go to their schools, and their catching COVID-19 and spreading it is a calculated risk, there is no reason organizations with viable return to action plans such as the Alberta Junior Hockey League should remain sidelined. In a way – despite getting there essentially crawling across the finish line with two broken ankles – I will admit this is a win for the UCP.

I do not pretend to have a place in the AJHL boardroom, nor do I have a place with any AJHL team, however I am wiling to stake the family car that the league and its teams could come up with a plan to keep players as isolated as possible while still travelling to play each other.

The obvious choice would be to mandate players who are high school-aged take online learning, while asking players to keep their venturing outside of their households to a minimum if it’s not possible to only go from their homes to the rink. These are sacrifices players will be happy to make if it means salvaging a season.

That is not to say these are the only factors to consider. There is everything from the differing day-to-day lives of billet families the league will have to consider, along with safe travel and overnight accommodations. Those are problems within the realm of possibility for the league.

What is not going to be possible is taking on the financial impact of running a season without fans in the stands. Fans are of course an additional variable and how much they may or may not impact the risk of running a season is up for debate. The fact of the matter however is fans in the stands are not a possibility until Phase Three of the relaunch, or unless the province announces otherwise.

With so much backlash coming from the back-to-school crowd, it is likely the province will be hesitant to give the go-ahead on what seems like a less than essential service. But for many of these players, especially the senior ones, this season is the culmination of everything they have been working their entire lives for.

If we’re going to let people crowd patios and students crowd classrooms, there’s no reason players in the AJHL should be competing against their own teammates in a never-ending developmental season.

Even if it is at half capacity, it is time for the UCP to allow the AJHL to start playing games in front of fans.

jothomas@postmedia.com

twitter.com/JoshThomasRepEx

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