The novel coronavirus has put a damper on the sports scene in Newfoundland and Labrador, but that isn’t a reason to quit being active.
On the weekend of March 13, Cassy Nichol of Portugal Cove South was staying with a friend from a competing high school basketball team when she heard the news.
Nichol, who played with Dunne Memorial Academy in St. Mary’s, was visiting St. Catherine’s Academy in Mount Carmel, to cheer for their team, and her on-the-court rivals, in a tournament that she was not playing in. She was there because that is how much she loves basketball.
However, when game day came, the girls received a phone call just as they were about to leave the house. Not only were they informed that the tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19 but also that schools in the province were closed for the same reason – effective immediately.
“When I first heard I was shocked. I didn’t really process it, and I’m still not sure that I have,” Nichol said, an undeniable sadness in her voice.
Looking back at the phone call, she recognizes it was not only the moment that her senior year ended. It was the moment her high school basketball career was over
One small comfort for Nichol, as well as others like her, is that athletes everywhere also have to mourn similar losses.
The right call
Unlike Nichol, Trevor Murphy was not shocked by the end of his team’s season.
“Every team in the ECHL had a chance to be a part of the discussions, to give their feedback,” explained Murphy, senior vice-president of the Newfoundland Growlers.
Although the cancellation came as no surprise to Murphy, life after COVID-19 has still been a massive adjustment for him and his colleagues.
“It certainly took a big change and a left turn,” Murphy said.
While local players could get in their vehicles and drive home, the Growlers had to book plane tickets for their imports in time for them to leave the province on the day of the official announcement.
According to Murphy, every player in the ECHL is contracted for one year at a time. As such, once the season came to an early close, all player contracts also ceased.
As of now Murphy said the ECHL is unsure whether or not players will return to regular contract in the coming season.
“A big thing for all the leagues is the travel piece,” Murphy said.
Two of the ECHL’s teams reside in Canada, but most are American. If travel and social restrictions don’t lighten up, there can’t be a competition without any opponents.
While bigger leagues, such as the NHL, have broadcast deals, Murphy said the ECHL is more reliant upon the ticket sales. Whether the team would be able to open without fans in the stands would have to be another conversation for them to consider.
Like many others in the world, Murphy is unsure of the future of his field, but he says shutting things down early was the right call, and he doesn’t want to rush anything in the meantime.
“We’re still trying to make sure that when fans come back to the Mile One Centre they’re coming back to a good place, they’re coming back to a place that has all the guidelines in place. We want to make sure we do it right,” Murphy said.
“You can thrive and forget all the rest of the stuff going on in the world.”-Colin O’Neill
The ECHL is not the only hockey league to feel the impact of COVID-19. Colin O’Neill plays right wing for the St. John’s Caps, but his first season has been cut short by the pandemic.
Despite his own loss, O’Neill has found himself worried about the well-being of players everywhere.
“I think what gets lost is the mental effects,” he said, reflecting upon the response to the loss of sports during the response to COVID-19.
“A lot of the players are happiest on the ice, and I think it is a place where you can thrive and forget all of the rest of the stuff going on in the world,” O’Neill said.
According to Alison Petten, a St. John’s based psychologist, O’Neill may have hit the nail on the head when he suggested players could be struggling with their mental health more than some realize.
“We are talking about a loss, and a loss that was sudden and unexpected at that. There was no time to prepare or say any goodbyes, so to speak,” Petten said.
“We humans are meant to be social and connect, and without that there could be a significant impact on mental health.”-Alison Petten
Petten said that a sport can be a person’s outlet, and that connection correlates to mental health in different ways for different individuals.
“We humans are meant to be social and connect, and without that there could be a significant impact on mental health,”
“Losing some of these core contributors to mental health could impact an individual’s cognitive abilities, so my hope is that people have been able to find another way of moving, getting outdoors, and connecting with others.”
She hopes warmer spring weather could provide a way for people to find a space outdoors to get active. She also said that, with health restrictions lifting, people can hopefully use outdoor activity as a way to connect with others.
“We humans are meant to be social and connect, and without that there could be a significant impact on mental health,” Petten said.
Football NL has also announced the cancellation of all of its programs – national and regional competitions included.
However, for football fans looking to follow Petten’s advice and find an alternative way to stay active, there is a silver lining. Football Canada has launched Football From Home.
The app is meant for coaches and players alike to engage in the sport that they are otherwise missing out on.
Businesses may also be feeling the impact of COVID-19, said Stevie Ryan, owner of Ryan’s Value Foods in St. Mary’s.
Although the bulk of the basketball season was over anyway, he said stores like his own miss the extra business generated by the more casual tournaments. Particularly in small communities such as his own, Ryan said, visitors drawn in by school sporting events can make up for those slower days.
“There are days during those tournaments where we see more business than most entire weeks,” he said.
His store is located near Dunne Memorial Academy, where Cassy Nichol played with the Vikings. He also volunteers as the coach of the boy’s basketball and softball teams at the school, and his little girl plays on every team that she can.
“At this point, I think it’s just best to sit the season out. We should be focusing on more pressing industries.”-Stevie Ryan
This school year his daughter was in Grade 6, and like Nichol when she was her age, she played on the girl’s senior team because there are so few senior-aged players in the community.
“She was devastated when schools closed their doors for the virus,” he said.
While Ryan grieved the loss of the sports season as a business owner, a coach and a father, he was mostly concerned that the right protocol was followed, and he also says the right call was made when things first ceased.
More recently, he has also found himself concerned as a self-proclaimed sports fan extraordinaire. “I follow every sport on the air,” he said. As such, with the National Basketball Association’s in talks to resume their season at Disney World, he is worried that things may be moving a little too quickly.
“At this point, I think it’s just best to sit the season out. We should be focusing on more pressing industries,” he said.
“No matter where I end up or what I plan to do, basketball will always be a part of my life.”
– Cassy Nichol
Nichol herself never truly accepted that it was time to sit the rest of her basketball season out until May, despite things being completely cancelled long before.
“I had hope that school would continue; I was positive it would,” she said.
She believed schools would open and she would get to miraculously finish her basketball season, albeit slightly delayed. That hope died when her school principal sent an email last month informing her that the school year was officially over.
“It completely crushed me,” Nichol said.
“Provincials were going to be a big deal this year, for the 50th anniversary,” she said, regarding the 50th anniversary of School Sports NL. “They were going to be held at MUN. I thought it could be a chance for more people to see me play.”
Nichol hoped that she would have been approached to join Memorial University’s Seahawks if she played well during her final provincials. Because she was always too nervous to try out for the provincial team, that was how she imagined getting scouted. Now she is sad that she will never know what might have happened.
One thing she does know is that she is not done fighting to play basketball. When she does go to university, she plans to try out for a varsity team.
“No matter where I end up or what I plan to do, basketball will always be a part of my life,” she said. “Especially with everything that’s going on right now.”
Even at home during quarantine, Nichol continues to play the sport every day. It is how she strives to stay physically and mentally well in these trying times.
While not everyone is a fan of organized sports, there is certainly a collective sense of loss during these times. For once – even if only for a little while – everyone is on the same team.