Oh what a year it has been. Nobody could have predicted that 2020 would go down in global history as the year that everything changed. Locally, what started as a year on track for continued success in Brantford sports and tournaments quickly turned into a year where game plans were changed, new delivery models were created and adapting to the plan became the norm. And through it all, what was evidently clear from the sport community in our town, is that athletes, teams and associations pulled together to come through.
Before the pandemic altered, well, everything, Brantford was poised to keep up its moniker as the Tournament Capital of Ontario. January brought an incredible event to the Brant Curling Club where some of the top curlers played in the Mixed Doubles Curling Classic which saw world class curlers compete in a three day event featuring 30 international teams including China, Australia and Switzerland. February saw the Brantford Girls Hockey Association host the Walter Gretzky Girls Hockey tournament (which is always the largest tournament held in our city) with over 2,100 talented young hockey players competing. Brantford was set to continue its strength and passion to provide meaningful, competitive and fun sports.
Then on March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic and to prevent the future spread of COVID-19, all levels of government took emergency actions.
As a result of the immediate suspension of all sporting events and tournaments due to COVID-19, as well as all group gatherings, many local events were postponed with an uncertainty as to when they could be rescheduled. Local sport organizations had to rely on public health guidelines, in conjunction with their respective Provincial Sport Organizations, for direction on return to play. As the Province of Ontario advanced into Phase 2 and Phase 3, local sport organizations had to make difficult decisions as to whether they could safely operate a program in 2020 or pause operations until 2021.
In light of this unprecedented event, many local sport organizations pivoted their connections with their membership since facilities and fields were closed. The resilience of local sport organizations, their staff, volunteers and membership was inspirational as they turned to online training, skills development and membership motivation. We saw young players from the Brantford Galaxy Youth SC run their soccer drills on Facebook, Brantford Bisons Football posted training and workout schedules on social media, coaches from the Brant Artistic Swimming Club were checking in with their teams with flex sessions via Zoom, and Brantford Minor Baseball Association assembling a video of a team playing virtual “catch” with each other. There were so many wonderful and inventive ways that our sport teams kept connected and kept their skills and moral up.
When we entered Phase 3 of the reopening plan, sport organizations were ready and prepared. With guidance from their provincial sport organizations and the Brant County Health Unit, the time had finally come to take to the fields this summer. It started small with limited people on the fields and in the stands. It was mostly skills development. It may have looked different, but it still brought the same joy and excitement to get back to the sport they loved. There were masks, there was contact tracing, there were stops in play to sanitize equipment. But we were all in it together by making a great effort to respect the rules and respect each other. A truly inspiring time in our lives.
The fall still brought its set of challenges as warmer weather sports were finishing and indoor sports were to start. With the school boards making the difficult decision to not issue community rental permits for its gymnasiums, it created a situation where some leagues and teams could not operate and would pause their upcoming season. The Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre was finally able to open its facility for swimming, skating and hockey but with many restrictions to keep the community and staff safe. It did come with some hiccups, but everyone worked together to find safe and workable solutions.
As we head into 2021, sport in Brantford is hopeful. We still aren’t ready for full back to play protocols and games as we knew it. But some sport organizations are preparing with caution and collaboration for what lies ahead. This may still be a year of skills development and inter-league play, but it will be a year of staying active and keeping the competitive spirit alive. Sport, and especially youth sport, in our community have shown just how resilient they are. They adapted and are thriving. And it’s all for the love of the game.
So here is a salute to all the athletes, coaches, team managers, volunteers and families that have helped to keep sport moving forward and fun in a year that threw us all many challenges. You are to be commended and are truly thanked for all your efforts. Best of luck in 2021!