Last fall, this Creighton Kodiaks football team was hoisting the Ralph Pilz Trophy as northern Saskatchewan champions.
This fall, they won’t be hitting the field at all.
Tight restrictions on group activity and extracurriculars in the midst of COVID-19 have led to this year’s high school football season being cancelled. In the best-case scenario, some teams may be able to play later in the school year, but currently the season appears to be scrubbed.
Karakochuk told his team in a recent meeting that they would likely not get a chance to defend their Northern Saskatchewan Football League (NSFL) title.
“I wanted them to hear what has happened and what has transpired, not only from the school, but from our league and school division,” said Karakochuk.
“The meeting was hard, especially for our seniors. They’re only in Grade 12 once and we had a good team, but regardless of how good we were, if the kids want to play, you want to go out and coach. When you can’t do that, it’s unfortunate.”
The Saskatchewan High School Athletics Association (SHSAA) has laid out guidelines for school sports to return, bringing in tight limits on what teams, players, coaches, fans and others can and cannot do during COVID-19. Schools and individual school divisions are allowed to place their own limits on top of the SHSAA rules.
If schools were willing to follow all precautions and allow sports to be played, mini-leagues could be set up within schools or with neighbouring schools to allow some competition.
Karakochuk met with other coaches from northern football programs last month to discuss how each school division and group planned to tackle the new season.
“We talked about what each of their schools is doing because that’s really what it comes down to,” Karakochuk said.
Of the eight teams in the northern Saskatchewan circuit, most schools are covered by Northern Lights School Division (NLSD). The only exceptions are Creighton Community School, which is covered by the Creighton School Division, and another school overseen by a First Nation, Karakochuk said. With more than half the league under NLSD purview, whatever decision the division made would hold sway over the league.
“I can tell you that the [NLSD] declared to the coaches, the six coaches that we have, that they were not allowed to practice and they weren’t allowed to play or travel this fall,” Karakochuk said.
“Hearing that news, right away, I knew we were in trouble - we didn’t have anyone to play against.”
On top of that, Creighton School Division has restricted travel and extra-curricular activities, including sports, for the near future. The football team is also unable to hold organized practices.
“That pretty much narrowed it down for us, as a group,” Karakochuk said.
While there may be changes later in the year or in early 2021, those changes will not come into effect in time for the football season.
“That’s what I told the team - we won’t be practicing as normal and playing this fall.”
Karakochuk said the ruling would likely have a negative impact on the team and its players - several of which are set to graduate this year. For players for whom football can be motivation to continue working in class and staying out of trouble - as a coach, Karakochuk doesn’t allow players with poor grades or disciplinary issues to hit the field - the coach fears not having the incentive might lead some kids astray.
“I think about myself going through Grade 11 and 12, sports got me through school. I feel bad for these kids - they’ve got to deal with COVID-19 and they’ve got to deal with the other things that help them get through school,” said Karakochuk.
“It was a way to meet new friends, a way to learn new skills, to get together, to build that family atmosphere. There’s so many good things to a team, in any sport, and they don’t have that right now. Some of them, they feel lost.”
All hope is not yet lost, however. The idea of holding a season in the spring has been floated by northern coaches, including Karakochuk. A petition has been created by the coaches, with the intention of sending it in to the SHSAA for information or possible approval.
“It would be somewhere in the vicinity of May and June - end of April, May and June.”
“We hope the SHSAA looks at it and determines that we need to allow our seniors and our athletes a chance to compete in the spring. That’s what we declared as a league.”