Concerns raised over sports amalgamation

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The Norfolk Secondary Schools Athletic Association (NSSAA) is expressing concerns about its student-athletes relating to a proposed plan to amalgamate the three sports leagues within the Grand Erie District School Board.

Last year the board announced plans to bring together NSSAA, the Brant County Secondary Schools Athletic Association (BCSSAA) and the four Haldimand-based schools under one banner. Three meetings were held during 2017-18 to discuss the execution of the changes, which are set to take place in 2019-20.

The first meeting of this school year was held on Monday, and while no one will speak on the record, members of the Norfolk board confirmed this week that there are still several key issues that are currently unresolved, to the point they’re contemplating withdrawing from the process.

Among them is the additional financial strain put on athletes and their families due to excess travel and the increased class time to be missed if say, the Valley Heights Bears need to face the Dunnville Panthers on a Tuesday afternoon. One board member estimated busing at $83/hour.

NSSAA also says they’ve gotten no feedback on when the board is hiring an athletic director and where funding for the position will come from. In fact, members of NSSAA say they’ve been given little direction as to how the process will work and that most of the responsibility for those decisions have been placed on the individual board members.

GEDSB director of education Brenda Blancher responded to NSSAA’s concerns with a statement.

It begins by saying that having three associations within the board offering different sports no longer makes sense.

“No matter the geographical location within our board, all students must be given the chance to compete in the same sports, with the same rules and the same opportunity to advance provincially,” Blancher wrote. “Additionally, in some cases, the formation of a new secondary school athletic association will expand the numbers of sports students can participate in across our district.”

One model that could be used in the new association would see all double-A schools grouped together – Simcoe, Paris, Holy Trinity, Delhi, Pauline Johnson – while the single-A schools (Valley Heights, Waterford, Cayuga, Dunnville, and Hagersville) form their own division.

Blancher said the board understands the formation of a new athletic association will bring with it a number of questions.

“We are committed to this process and have addressed concerns as they have been shared,” Blancher continued. “We have received the concerns raised by the Norfolk Association and will respond, as promised.”

“To use a sports analogy, we are all on the same team, working towards the same goals and experiences for our student athletes.”

Blancher encouraged the Norfolk members to stay at the table in hopes the association can be formed by this coming fall.

“We value their voice and input and would not want them to lose this opportunity moving forward,” she said.