COVID-19 delayed their opening by a week, but the Halifax Sport & Social Club will see the winter season start January 25, 2021.
The Province of Nova Scotia’s precautionary restrictions on sports gameplay is expiring, which means fall’s outstanding league games will be rescheduled, and winter leagues like soccer, basketball, volleyball and floor hockey will go ahead.
“We had to push things back a week, but we’re getting ready to get going again,” said Nicole Carlson, HSSC Sport Operations Manager.
“We’ve been running sports since the summer, with many of our leagues during that time taking place outside. We then ran September to around Christmas.”
But as COVID-19 cases grew during the holiday season, things were shut down and restrictions were put back in place for a few weeks in Nova Scotia.
“We have been working around these measures and have made some changes. For instance, there are no playoffs in our leagues right now. We just want to keep things fun,” she said.
“Scores and standings are kept, but there are no prizes. It’s just nice to get people out and keep them active.”
The facilities HSSC uses have undergone many changes, including staggered game-times and sanitization of areas before new teams play.
“Things are a lot smaller too. Maybe there used to be 12 teams in a division last year, but we could be down to six in places,” said Carlson.
Erin DiCarlo, Public Affairs Advisor with Halifax Regional Municipality, says “the safety and health of municipal staff and residents is of the utmost importance.”
“To help stop the spread of COVID-19, several new facility guidelines have been implemented. All participants must follow Provincial Public Health Guidelines. Participants must also abide by the regulations of their respective sport governing body. Participants not following these regulations will be at risk of being removed from the program.”
She says, though, that the majority of residents using municipal recreation facilities have been respectful of guidelines.
Carlson says players are understanding of what needs to be done.
“When we do floor hockey, teams need to have smaller rosters. We aren’t having spectators. We just need less bodies in the gym. The rosters are capped. We have 10 players per team to a game,” she said.
“It’s certainly different, as we are a sport and social organization, so that takes the social atmosphere out of it. But many are just thankful they can play sports, even with these modifications.”
Marla Macinnis, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Wellness, says they recognize the importance of sports, especially for physical and mental health benefits.
“That's why we've allowed sports to continue with some limitations to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” she wrote in an email.
“Physical distancing is not required because we recognize that some intermittent contact is necessary for these activities.”
On another note, the Halifax Mussels – the only LGBTQ+ & allies hockey team east of Montreal – are taking restrictions in stride.
“When we found out that arenas would be reopening, we decided to change our registration model to a monthly “pay as you go” model, vs a seasonal registration type of model. This allows us to flex our registration numbers on a monthly basis based on the latest restrictions in place for group gatherings,” said Kevin Shulz, Co-Chair and player, in an email.
He said they follow all the guidelines put in place by the municipality, and notes they’ve been “wonderful” in communicating information and helping them work through changes.
“Some of the biggest changes we had to get used to includes wearing a mask at all times when not on the ice or on the bench, working with a smaller number of participants, providing a list of players names ahead of each ice-time for contact tracing purposes, minimizing time spent in dressing rooms prior to and after our ice-times, entering the arena as a single group and following directional signage at the facility,” he said.
They also have their own COVID screening system ahead of their ice times, and players get an electronic COVID screening questionnaire that’s required for players to be put on the roster.
Schulz says the team has adapted well to the regulations and take them seriously. He said they kept in contact with members when restrictions were put in place.
“We encouraged our members to lean on each other and avail of mental health supports that were available to them. On the committee level, organizers checked in regularly with each other and individually reached out to participants that we felt may have been struggling emotionally with the COVID situation. We always put a lot of effort into getting to know our members, even pre-COVID, and when someone is struggling, we come together as a group to support that person the best way we can.”
For Schulz and the committee, there’s nothing better than seeing the smiles and excitement in players’ eyes at the end of a game.
“We see the excitement while we wait for the arena operators to let us on the ice, the fun and upbeat music we play during game time, the sound of the skate blades hitting the ice and pucks hitting off the boards – these are reminders of what things were like before COVID-19,” he said.
For both the Mussels and HSSC, health and wellness are top priorities. For HSSC’s Carlson, getting people out is so important.
“It’s so crucial to give people a safe way to get out and play sports. The last 10 months, we’ve followed guidelines and we want everyone to be comfortable, come out, and have a good time,” she said.
“We encourage people to come sign up for our winter season, as there are still plenty of opportunities to get out, make some friends and be active.”