The Fighting Owls’ wings will be clipped this year, as Collingwood Collegiate Institute (CCI) administration has made the decision to not run a senior football team in 2021/22.
Citing a shortage of students signing up and safety concerns, CCI made the decision last week, much to the disappointment of parents, students and coaching staff, despite an overall bump in interest in the return of extracurriculars after a year-long hiatus due to COVID-19.
“It certainly is disappointing for those students who are really keen about football,” said Chris Bremer, student activities co-ordinator at CCI. “Our numbers were such that when the coaches looked at positions and filling the team safely, it wasn’t something we were going to be able to do.”
Lee Jenkins’ son Kyle attends CCI, and was elated when the Simcoe County District School Board announced in August that extracurriculars would be back this fall.
Kyle played junior football during his Grade 9 year at the Collingwood high school, and has played for the Huronia Stallions in Barrie. Jenkins says her son was looking forward to coming back for Grade 11 able to join up with the senior team.
“Football is his sport. I was extremely disappointed this year because I felt like they waited until the last second,” said Jenkins, noting the sign-up sheet went up at the school on Sept. 7 and students had to declare if they wanted to join up and for specific positions.
The 22 students that signed up fell short of the 24 minimum needed to play. Despite the aspiring players spending time actively recruiting members to try to make up the roster, Jenkins says it still wasn’t enough.
“I thought more should have been done to make them successful,” she said. “Here we have kids who want to be team leaders. How are they going to play football at the next level if they don’t get to play at this level?”
Jenkins worries that without high school football stats, her son will be disadvantaged when it comes to applying for sports scholarships for college or university down the road.
“Boys and girls need these extracurriculars in high school to learn how to network and what’s important to them. This is when they’re making decisions on where they want to go and what they want to do for the rest of their lives,” said Jenkins.
Bremer said many of the students who would have played senior football have managed to pivot to volleyball, golf or tennis so they’ll still have sport experiences this year.
“Football is a sport where, especially at the senior level, you have to be confident you have enough players that you’re not playing people so much that they’re going to get injured,” said Bremer. “There needs to be some level of experience in certain positions.”
“The coaches weren’t confident those numbers were there,” he said.
Bremer says he also played football in high school and didn’t have a senior team when he played, so he understands what the students are going through.
Overall, he says student interest in extracurriculars has been high this year. He notes that all other sports and clubs will still be running at the Collingwood high school.
“They’re excited. They’ve been without those opportunities at school and in the community for a year, so they’re very excited to get back into the sports and continue with their friends,” said Bremer. “Everybody would like to see all programs running but we’re very happy with the number of programs that will be running. School can be stressful for some students and it gives them something they can build confidence in while being a part of the school community.”
During a Simcoe County District School Board extracurriculars update provided to trustees on Wednesday night by the superintendent of education, Daryl Halliday, he indicated that the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit provided authorization for high schools to run their full slate of sports and clubs this year.
“We’re taking a cautious and well-planned approach,” said Halliday.
Coaches and officials will be required to wear full PPE at all times both indoors and outdoors, and volunteers and officials must be fully vaccinated. Students who are not in the field of play are expected to wear masks at all times.
The school board will not be hosting any tournaments and will be sticking strictly to league play. One game per week will be taking place between schools.
No spectators will be permitted for indoor events. Spectators are welcome for outdoor events, but are expected to wear masks where two metres of space cannot be maintained.
For elementary schools, flag football will be the only sport running at this time between schools and at pre-determined schools. Cross-country will be done as a club only at the school level.
Bremer says he’s been working with coaches and volunteer to navigate the new COVID-19 rules at the school level.
“There is a lot of new stuff this year. We’re working to make sure we’re doing everything correctly,” said Bremer. “We also are working on educating the parents. They’re just as excited as the students to have (extracurriculars) back and they want to watch. I think everybody understands that following the guidelines put out by the health unit are going to allow us to continue with sports.”
When contacted for further comment this week by CollingwoodToday.ca, Halliday said the board’s ability to run various sports teams at a school can fluctuate from year to year based on a number of factors including student interest, availability of coaches and competing opportunities. Six schools county-wide will not be running a senior football team this year.
“There are some schools across the county that will not be running a division of football this season, as is the case with some other sports, but we do not see this as a trend or something that is particularly out of the ordinary from any other year in the past,” he said.