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Nov 25
Students & staff celebrate the camaraderie and community the return of school sports brings

The Semiahmoo Secondary senior girls volleyball team in action earlier this season.

This school year has marked the long-awaited return of sports to gyms and fields throughout the district, and students and staff alike are happy to be back in the game safely under provincial health guidelines.

Since September, schools have been permitted to bring sports back, with certain restrictions, for the first time since the spring 2020 season was suspended due to the pandemic.

"Sports are such a big part of the culture of our schools, and a lot of planning has gone into bringing them back," said Surrey Secondary Schools Athletic Association president Courtney O'Brien, who is a vice-principal at Clayton Heights Secondary. "We always collaborate with athletic directors and coaches, but now we've worked with people from different parts of the community and the district and other districts to see what's working well and how we can provide a safe return to sports for kids."

Surrey Elementary Schools Athletic Association president Scott McIndoe said sports offer a significant opportunity for students to bond outside of the classroom, which was limited last year to health and safety concerns. With the removal of cohorts, for example, his students at Crescent Park Elementary have had a chance to compete against students from other schools. Their first volleyball game, he said, was particularly special.

"To actually have other kids from another school, I'd say the first 20 minutes felt like the Twilight Zone – the kids were like, 'Is this real again?'" he recalled with a laugh. "But they were really excited, it was great to see."

Another significant change this year involves spectators, with capacity limits at secondary sports functions (up to 50 people or 50% capacity, whichever is greater), and the absence of spectators at elementary sports, except outdoors.

"Because secondary schools are larger, there is more space for spectators," said health and safety officer Vanessa Ezaki. "They might have dedicated bleachers to hold all those people, whereas in elementary gyms, there isn't as much room for parents and visitors."

Fans must also follow visitor protocols, including daily health checks, wearing masks, frequent hand hygiene and respecting others' personal space.

The Lord Tweedsmuir junior varsity football team gets a pep talk during one of this season's games.

McIndoe and O'Brien both said their students missed the camaraderie that comes with team sports, and they are excited to play together again now with extracurriculars back and provincial championships starting up.

"They cheer each other on," said McIndoe. "Being able to share that excitement with students outside your classroom, especially at the Grade 6 and 7 level, it's so important to have that community."

"Everyone's just happy to be back, seeing kids back in the gym, having a good time," said O'Brien. "I think we've done the best that we can and the kids and parents are appreciative.

"We're in a good place and I hope things continue this way."

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