Updated: Jan 13
September 22nd marked the return of Ontario University Athletics after a 19-month hiatus. A few weeks before Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, OUA basketball was forced to abruptly suspend its 2019-2020 season, with no certainty regarding its immediate future. A year later, OUA athletes face a similar uncertainty. “It's just really hard to hope, when you don’t know anything” remarked Senior Guard, Keyra Gallo. The Algoma University Women’s Basketball team finds itself looking to the government for more clarity regarding their ability to return to training.
For athletes who compete in two-semester sports, the winter break is an opportunity to decompress and spend time with family. Their holidays tend to be shorter than most students, as they are required to return to campus for training camp before winter classes begin. The OUA preemptively decided to resume the season on January 24th “in an effort to better allow member institutions to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student-life programming and allow for student-athletes to have sufficient time to properly train and prepare for the winter championship stretch run.”
On January 3rd, the Ontario government announced that the province would revert to step two restrictions to slow the spread of the new Omicron variant. Gyms were among the businesses that were ordered to shut down for a 21-day period. The provincial government created an exemption list for professional and elite amateur leagues, allowing them to continue competing through the lockdown. Omitted from that list was the OUA.
“I’m pretty sad, I feel like the reality of things has not really hit me yet.” Keyra remains hopeful that the season will resume; but this state of limbo has forced her to reflect on the possibilities that her senior year could be cut short.
“I have been here for four years, and I have played through a whole season, I’ve travelled everywhere, I missed out on a season due to covid, and I’ve been injured; it’s just upsetting for it to end this way”
Without this elite designation, varsity athletes at Algoma University will find themselves returning to training at the earliest on January 26th. This will likely leave athletes and the league with a short window to ramp up training before opening tip-off for the winter semester.
“The turn around for everyone is going to be hard -- my only fear is that if games start going into March/April, that’s the end of the year, exam time. A lot of the time the season ends, and then it's midterms. At this point, the season would continue and then we would go into midterms, so I think it will be a little more stressful.”
The criterion for this elite designation remains a mystery. Featured on the list is the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), League 1 Ontario (L1O), and the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association (OSBA) to name a few. Most of these leagues are comprised of high School-aged athletes; and in the case of L1O, OUA athletes compete in that league during the off-season. Furthermore, “There’s a lot of OUA athletes that go play pro and put in the same amount of work as a professional,” says Keyra.
As she awaits further updates from the OUA and the Government, Keyra hopes that during these hard times, her fellow classmates continue spreading positive energy to each other; “It's not just hard for us, it's hard for everybody. I know as athletes we're frustrated and struggling, but we’re not the only ones that are getting things taken away from us. No one can go to school in-person, everyone is stuck at home. I would just say, stay positive, wake up with a smile everyday, try to bring good energy to people.”
Story by Yves Tambwe