The suspension of high school athletics packs an extra punch to the gut for some students at Brant high schools.
Secondary school teachers with the Grand Erie District School Board stepped up their union’s action against the province’s Bill 115 on Monday by refraining from all extracurricular activities.
That means the end of high school sports for the foreseeable future.
For athletes like North Park Collegiate student Nick Minutillo, it’s a devastating blow.
“All I wanted to do was come back to school and play my fifth year of basketball,” he said. “It sucks that our season is going to end early like this.”
Minutillo is one of several local athletes that elected to return to high school after Grade 12 for what is known as the “victory lap” year. The main reason many students return for a fifth year is to compete in their sport of choice.
Fellow North Park student Courtney Lukawiecki is in the same boat.
“Volleyball is one of the only reasons I returned (for another school year),” she said. “There are three other girls on the team who did the same thing.”
With public high school teachers boycotting sports, the Brant leagues have been shut down.
Assumption College and St. John’s College can still run teams because Catholic high school teachers reached a collective bargaining agreement with the province in July. But a minimum of three teams are required to form a league under Brant County Secondary School Athletics Association rules.
St. John’s and Assumption coaches have been trying to figure out ways to continue to play exhibition games, whether against each other or another Catholic school from the region.
“The ice time is already booked, so we might as well use that ice time and play some exhibition games whenever we can,” St. John’s Grade 12 boys hockey player Brent Smolarz said. “This is my first year on the hockey team so it kind of sucks only playing a few games.
“There is still a possibility of competing in the (Central Western Ontario Secondary Schools Association) or (Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations) tournaments. At least there is word going around about the possibility. All we can do is wait it out and keep playing hockey.”
Boys basketball teams and girls volleyball teams only got to play two games of their seasons before the shutdown. Boys and girls hockey teams played a handful of games during the past couple of weeks.
“We are pretty upset about it,” Lukawiecki said. “We are all trying to keep up with the news because we don’t want to be one-sided and get mad. So we are trying to be understanding of it and get past that. And then we all are just hoping that we can get back on the court.”
If local school boards and unions can’t hammer out a deal, Bill 115 will give the education minister the power to impose contracts on teachers and support staff after Dec. 31.
Many of the public school teachers who coach teams direct comment on the situation to the local union, which in turn directs comment to the head office of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.
Federation executive officer Leslie Wolfe spoke with Brant News last week.
“Our members love working with students outside of the classroom and (boycotting extracurricular activities) is a decision that is not made lightly, but rather a decision that is made in the full understanding of the seriousness of their desire to have Bill 115 repealed,” Wolfe said.
Minutillo has a stronger understanding of the teachers’ position thanks to his dad, who is a teacher at North Park.
“I’m not saying one side is right and one side is wrong,” Minutillo said. “They have to do what they have to do and there is not much we can do about it.
“It’s definitely disappointing. All we want to do is play sports. It’s not only that, but extracurricular is done and extra help after school, so even from an education standpoint it’s disappointing.”
If the province decides to exercise the powers of Bill 115 to impose a contract in the new year, it’s not clear if the move would allow for the immediate resumption of high school athletics in Brant.