CENTRE WELLINGTON – After learning they won’t have access again this year to their usual space, Centre Wellington Celtics officials are working to find alternative ways to play this season, while also accommodating an increase in enrolment.
After the spring season was cut short in 2020 with COVID-19 lockdowns and stay at home orders, the CW Celtics have found ways to continue to offer programming, but it hasn’t been without its challenges.
As the club plans for the 2021-22 season, it continues to face limited options for gym time and space and with schools closed to community use again this year, it is left with limited options.
Board member, house league convenor and rep coach Jessica Robbins said the biggest challenge facing the club is not having use of Centre Wellington District High School (CWDHS) in Fergus.
The Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB) recently decided to continue to prohibit community use of school gyms.
Programming for both rep and house league teams would usually be run out of CWDHS, but without access the club has had to cut down practice time.
Robbins said the club has pleaded its case to the UGDSB, including offering to bring in its own cleaners.
“We’ve been bouncing around the idea of getting together with other organizations in the area that use the schools – if we all came together as one voice maybe they’d listen to us – and also reaching out to parents to make sure we have their support as well,” she said.
The club was able to secure a gym at Central Pentecostal Church for rep programming last year, which Robbins said has been a huge support.
However, she noted the gym is smaller than regulation size, making it difficult for older players, and the majority of the equipment is outdated.
The program would normally be run on the high school’s triple court format, whereas the church is a single gym.
“So it significantly impacted the number of people that we could have at one time but also the number of players we could have overall because of course they use their gyms for their own purposes,” she explained.
At the high school, the club would have access to all evenings and Saturdays, but with the church Robbins said it’s only able to get Saturday, Monday and Tuesday.
The club also had to cancel its house league programming last season because of the lack of space available.
Robbins said the house league, which is normally run on Fridays, would usually see about 40 kids per session, but the club can’t fit that kind of number in the gym it’s currently playing out of, which is why it had to cancel last year’s season.
She added the province continuously changes its colour zoning last year, which also altered the number of people that could be in the gym at one time.
“So we were constantly having to adapt to whatever the rules were,” she explained.
“We always tried to stay one step ahead so that we were always following and keeping everyone safe, not just for the sake of following the rules but it was important to keep everyone safe and if our numbers stayed low that meant we could keep playing and staying active.”
Robbins said to make the best of the situation during tighter restrictions coaches would host practices in their driveways, where players could dribble the ball while socially distanced.
They would also host virtual practices from their garage during lockdowns in attempt to continue to give players an athletic outlet.
“We have a few teams where the players are so keen and they will dribble in their driveway in February just to get their hands on a ball,” she explained.
She noted when the Celtics were finally able to welcome players back, officials noticed a shift in their activity level.
“Our first camp this summer we noticed the kids conditioning wasn’t at the level that we had seen in the past,” she explained.
“By the end of the week they were kind of getting back to where they had been, but there were a lot of water breaks that needed to be taken.”
Robbins said another challenge the club has had to endure is the financial frustration of putting money out for events that were cancelled and then not getting the money back.
“On top of it costing the players their opportunity to play, it’s costing us money as well,” she explained.
However, Robbins said with all the opening and closing last year, the club chose to run a reduced program at no cost to its players.
“We know that everyone has been struggling a little bit financially with all of the changes and we chose to just run programming just for the sake of giving our players and the kids an activity that they could go to and stay active.”
She added the club unfortunately can’t do that again this year, since it is non-profit and relies on registration fees to run programming.
Robbins said officials are working around the increase in interest and enrolment they’ve seen through the pandemic, adding they’re seeing record numbers of players wanting to come out.
The club ran four weeks of programs in the summer that filled up quick, so it added another six weeks of different programs, which also filled right away.
Robbins said officials have been able to get access to the church again for the upcoming season and they’re working with the church to upgrade equipment.
“They’re trying to work with us to get us more time but it’s still not enough to do everything that we need to do or that we want to do,” she explained.
Robbins said the current limit in the church is 20 players, which is more than officials feel comfortable with given its size.
She added they want to be able to accommodate everyone but it’s going to be challenging. To prepare, the club has been reaching out to places in town with gyms that aren’t associated with the school board.
“We do have two gyms that have agreed to give us use and now we’re just trying to juggle all the time slots into making it work,” she explained, adding rep teams will have reduced playing time and house league teams will be at different times and spaces.
“What was really good about the high school is parents could come and in one hour or two hours have all their kids play and now we’re going to have to spread it out over all of Saturday which also conflicts with other sports like hockey,” Robbins explained.
“So, we expect that we’re going to lose a lot of players with this change.”
She added the club doesn’t like turning players away so instead of putting capacity limits, it will add more time slots.
“As long as there’s kids that are interested, we want to provide an outlet for them and give them a chance to be active,” she explained.
“Although the coaches are all really passionate about the sport, it’s not just about making great players, it’s also about keeping kids active and healthy and giving them a place to go and be part of a team.
“So much of it is it doesn’t matter whether they’re winning or losing games, it’s just that they love to come out and play together. We just want to play.”