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Sr. Assistant Director
Executive Director CIAAA
To advocate involvement in school sport as an integral part of education and to provide governance of inter school sport activities for high school students through fair play and equal opportunity.
Program Director Unified Sports
From the Executive Director – September 28, 2020
I have pondered for some time what to put into a message that is normally one of anticipation of the school sports year ahead, but I cannot do that this year. So much has happened since the global pandemic was declared on March 12, 2020 that to delve into the multitude of situations, meetings, decision making, legal advice sought and received, town halls, communications with more groups than I could have imagined and an increasing volume of questions from our membership about all things COVID-19 and sport related would fill volumes. So, let me keep my message directed to just a few areas.
Alberta’s student athletes need sport in their lives, but nothing should override the obligation to keep our students and others involved in school athletics safe. This explains why every communique coming from the ASAA includes a comment that Government of Alberta (GoA) and Alberta Health Services (AHS) Guidelines are the first required point of compliance. The second point of compliance is the local school jurisdiction led by their superintendent, followed by school by school decisions of principals and finally compliance with ASAA directions. Just because ASAA may have opened the door to multiple cohorts in sports because of GoA Guidelines, this does not mean that school jurisdictions, or provincial sport organizations for that matter, must follow suit. It also does not mean that the ASAA is encouraging multiple sport cohorts for student athletes. Student safety is the responsibility of many, but the final decision, when and where school sports are available, is that of the student and their parent/guardian, after they have weighed the risks to them and others of increasing the number of sport cohorts they choose to participate in.
Given that in addition to me, I have two immediate family members involved in the Alberta Education system, I have experienced through them the stress and challenges being faced in schools on a daily basis. I commend every administrator, teacher and support staff member for their ongoing commitment to students and especially those involved in school athletics in one form or another. I commend the students for the resilience they are showing at such a difficult time. For some students, school sport is what brings them to school and keeps them at their studies. For others, it is a wonderful adjunct to their active, busy school life. For others still, school athletics may be the only sport opportunity their family can afford. For so many students and 10,000 volunteer coaches in high schools, being in school athletics helps define them and bring special meaning to their life.
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A June 2020 study of over 3,000 Wisconsin high school aged athletes, shows that rates of anxiety of student athletes who have lost school athletics during the COVID-19 pandemic at over 65% with 25% of those being at a moderate to severe level. The study also showed that while rates of mild depression increased from 21.7 to 31.8%, the level of moderate to severe depression of the same population has more than tripled from 9.7% to over 33.4%. Finally, physical activity levels of those student athletes is down by an average 50%. I believe it is reasonable to assume that Alberta student athletes may be impacted in a similar way to the Wisconsin students. To me, these negative impacts highlight the very important role that school athletics plays in the lives of students, and why continued support for co-curricular athletics is so important. Given the negative impact on student mental health as a result of losing athletics, I struggle to understand why there are some places where school athletics is not given robust support at all levels within a school to enhance the mental, physical, emotional and social health of student athletes. When we return to a post-COVID-19 environment, I truly hope that those who have not considered the positive impact of school athletics and other co-curricular activities on the lives of students and the positive impacts on school spirit might reconsider the benefits that can accrue.
Despite the pressures you as a person with an interest in school athletics, are feeling on a daily basis, I ask that you try and pay special attention to communicating with students who might normally be involved in school athletics at this time but are missing out. Be aware of the heightened potential for anxiety and depression among student athletes who are not only impacted by the stresses and limitations imposed by COVID-19 in their normal lives and day to day school experiences, but also the compounding effect of not having sports either.
The ASAA Executive and staff are doing everything they can to stay abreast of government updates and continue to communicate with multiple stakeholders. We are all committed to be ready to pivot to interschool activity when it is deemed safe to do so, with the hope that provincial championships will become a reality at some time during 2021. But how things will look two, four or six months from now in related to COVID-19 Guidelines GOA/AHS decisions and their impact on school athletics is anyone’s guess.
I wish each of you a great fall and enduring patience during the pandemic as the regularly changing landscape in our schools and communities is our reality for now. As if you have not heard it before, please stay safe, social distance as much as is possible and when that is not possible, wear a mask. Wash or sanitize your hands frequently. Where possible, I encourage you to find the time if you can for a kind word to other staff members in your school who are struggling as much as you are, and to be especially understanding to those student athletes who are having such a hard time not being able to play the sport they love.
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Hello Unified Coaches, Volunteers, Participants, and Supporters!
Unified Sports is back, but will look a bit different in the 2020-21 school year.
Providing Unified Athletes with social connection and physical activity is more critical than ever, and we want to help make that a little easier. We'll be sharing virtual opportunities throughout the year, but please don't hesitate to contact us with your own ideas that we could support you in, or with a request for resources that would help foster inclusion in your Unified teams. We'll also be looking for hosts for virtual events, please contact Shanna if you're interested in this.
Whether your school is currently allowing sports or not, please take some time to review the Government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services guidelines, as well as the return to sport protocol from Special Olympics Alberta and the Alberta Schools' Athletic Association. Remember that your school jurisdiction may have more restrictive policies than any of the groups listed above, and always err on the side of safety for all participants.
Inclusive Sports Program Director
Watch Live on Youtube
The Season of Play Committee is regularly meeting and will provide an update of the changes for all sports affected due to Covid-19 in the upcoming months.
Unified Sports Leader in Inclusion Scholarship Recipients
Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy
Eagle Butte High School
Alberta Milk - ASAA Scholarship Recipients
Please visit our website for the most current changes to the event calendars.
2020 Champions of Inclusion
From Special Olympics Alberta:
In honour of Global Week of Inclusion, we’re celebrating our homegrown Champions of Inclusion who were nominated by members of their community: Albertans who are leading the charge for respecting and embracing all abilities.
METRO EDMONTON HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETICS
Metro jumped on board with Unified Sports in Alberta high schools in 2018 with the Metro Unified Jamboree, combining three sports in one day for the ultimate inclusive Zone Championship. Spearheaded by Shawn Shepherd, Metro has expanded their offerings to include both an annual Unified Bocce and a Unified Jamboree event, bringing together hundreds of students from across the greater Edmonton area every year.
COLD LAKE HIGH SCHOOL
Cold Lake High School jumped on board with Unified Sports by hosting a Unified Bean Bag toss tournament, which is now an annual event hosted by teachers Kelly Eagles and Jared Nichol. Even though it’s called a bean bag toss event, there’s so much more going on to promote inclusion for every participant of every ability: students can make signs for their school between games, meet peers from surrounding schools, join the after-lunch cha-cha-slide, and go home with a special gift from CLHS.
BERT CHURCH HIGH SCHOOL
Led by Ian Ferguson and Cynthia Dahl, Bert Church High School was one of the first schools in Alberta to start playing Unified Sports back in 2016. They’ve made it a permanent part of their school community since then. BCHS has been both event participants and event hosts, most recently hosting a virtual Unified Bean Bag Toss event for athletes across Canada to learn a new activity while staying safe at home.
BELLEROSE HIGH SCHOOL
Bellerose High was excited to host the 2020 Metro Unified Jamboree and ready to show schools from across Edmonton what inclusion looks like for the Bellerose Bulldogs. The event was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID-19, but that didn’t stop the Bulldogs Unified Team from staying connected and showing their dedication to their team by donning their jerseys and making a video to stay connected.
SHANNA KURYLO AND THE ASAA
Shanna Kurylo and the ASAA team have brought inclusion to high schools across Alberta. In less the five years the culture surrounding inclusion in high schools has shifted dramatically thanks to Unified Sports. The ASAA has been the driving force behind the Unified program and Shanna has done an incredible job connecting with teachers, schools, and making sure inclusion is ingrained in the hearts and minds of student athletes and partners here in Alberta.
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