As golf and tennis return, rec team sports still unsure when they'll be back

The Canadian Press

MONTREAL — Jason Dorrington was looking forward to playing for six softball teams this summer, until recreational sports across the country ground to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Individual, non-contact sports like golf and tennis have been given the green light to play in Quebec and Ontario this week. However, team sports such as soccer, baseball, basketball and flag football, must wait until they have been deemed safe to play by their respective governments.

"It sucks," Dorrington said. "I look forward to it every year to get together with the boys all the time. I play five, six times a week. Gives me something to do."

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The FlagPlus Football League, a men's flag football league in Montreal, paused its winter season March 13, eight days before Andel Thomas-Gordon and his team, the "Average Joe's," were supposed to begin their playoff run.

"Flag was life. I felt like a professional flag player," Thomas-Gordon said. "When you take that out, I have no hobby to do. I have to find something else to do because this was everything. I got to see everyone at least once a week."

Dorrington and Thomas-Gordon could sympathize with the thousands of others who can't participate in any of recreational leagues run by the Toronto Sport and Social Club.

Instead of soccer, kickball and ultimate Frisbee leagues, they're keeping themselves running through online bingo, trivia leagues, and speed dating at little to no cost for participants.

TSSC founder Kristi Herold says they're struggling to cover overhead costs.

"We're on the verge of collapsing as an organization," Herold said. "We're trying to stay alive. We're trying to find ways to cover some of our costs. We had to give back thousands and thousands, we had to give back a lot of money in the form of credit because of the winter season getting cut short."

Some leagues like FlagPlus anticipate changes to their schedule once they've been cleared to return. The league sent a memo to its players May 5 saying that they would aim to resume the winter season in mid-July. It would be followed by a "hybrid schedule" spanning from August to November.

But for organizations like AK-Rec, a Montreal basketball recreational league with nearly 800 participants through nine recreational divisions in gyms across the city, they've already cancelled their summer leagues and it is possible they may not see any action until early January 2021.

"It took me 16 years to build up the league and, essentially, now it took three weeks for it to just get dismantled." AK-Rec owner and founder Ariel Kincler said.

"It's gone from a healthy revenue stream to zero."

The issue of contact, or lack thereof, may pose a challenge for some recreation leagues once they return. But it won't stop them from trying.

John Stellato, president and director of the Quebec Calcetto Soccer League, feels it might not be possible to have participants follow every physical distancing measure as they play. However, he said he will supply masks and encourage players to wear their own gloves.

"Even if the government doesn't require it, it's a matter of safety." Stellato said.

Physical distancing might be possible on a ball diamond for softball and baseball, but it's the behaviour of players in dugouts that worries Montreal Softball League president Gil Di Gregorio.

Teammates high-fiving each other, sharing water bottles and spitting out sunflower seeds might be a thing of the past until a vaccine is deployed.

"These are things that we're going to have to mention to (players) that we're going to have to restrict or completely eliminate." Di Gregorio said.

Kincler thinks having players swabbed before taking to the court might be a solution once his league resumes. But the damage may already be done by then.

"I'm not going to have the same numbers when we return to some sense of normalcy," Kincler said.

But there are some recreational sport athletes who are just desperate to play.

"Let's just get people back playing somehow," Herold said.

"I can't wait," Dorrington said. "The season would've started last week. I'm dying to play. I've been playing baseball since I was six years old. Twenty-nine years on the field."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2020.

Julian McKenzie, The Canadian Press

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