The high school sports landscape in Brant, Haldimand and Norfolk counties is about to change.
Schools within the Grand Erie and Brant Haldimand Norfolk Catholic district school boards will be under one governing sports body – the Athletic Association of Brant Haldimand Norfolk. In the past, the schools competed in the Brant County Secondary Schools Athletic Association, the Norfolk Secondary Schools Athletic Association and, in the case of the Haldimand schools, Southern Ontario Secondary School Athletics.
“It’s a positive move,” said Dave Thomas, a retired teacher and principal, who will help oversee the new association as the athletic program consultant for the Grand Erie board.
“It helps the growth of sports for some of our smaller schools because it will increase the competition level for them. I really think for our individual sports it will be a positive move.”
The whole process to bring schools from three different counties and two school boards under one playing association began a couple of years ago. When it was first brought to the table, there were some department heads within each board who didn’t like the idea.
“When it first came out, there was a ton of opposition,” said Steve Petrella, Assumption College physical education department head.
“We all felt that we were being told this was going to happen and basically we’re with it or we’re not. Most of the opposition came from the fact that we wanted to have a say in this.”
While Thomas will report back to senior administration within the Grand Erie board, Petrella has a similar role as the athletic co-ordinator for the Catholic board.
“When it first came up, they thought we were going to get rid of two districts and be just one,” said Thomas while talking about opposition to the idea, also noting some thought more travel would be involved.
“That took a long time to make people realize it would still be two districts.”
Just like the old Brant County and Norfolk leagues, all three counties will compete in the Central Western Ontario Secondary Schools Association region. Within CWOSSA, there are several districts and Brant has always been District 5, while Norfolk is District 9.
That won’t change, except that Haldimand now will be in District 9 of CWOSSA rather than where it has been in the past, SOSSA.
What has changed is that a new constitution and playing regulations have been drawn up because there are some structural changes.
While the six Brant County schools that normally competed in BCSSAA will remain for almost every sport, Caledonia’s McKinnon Park Secondary School will join them.
One difference will be in football. For that sport, Pauline Johnson Collegiate will compete with the Norfolk and Haldimand schools. while McKinnon Park stays with the five remaining Brant County schools.
Also for football, the schools in Norfolk and Haldimand will compete in CWOSSA or varsity leagues, with the teams in the CWOSSA league eligible to advance past their local competitions and those in varsity unable to do that.
“The biggest positive is it’s going to give schools the ability to compete at their own level,” said Petrella. “It will lead to a more competitive structure.”
District 9 – with the five schools from Norfolk and three from Haldimand – will be set up with two leagues, based on proximity.
League 1 will include Holy Trinity Catholic High School in Simcoe, Simcoe Composite School, Delhi District Secondary School and Valley Heights Secondary School in Langton, while League 2 will include Waterford District High School, Hagersville Secondary School, Cayuga Secondary School and Dunnville Secondary School.
Schools also may play crossover games during league play.
Students from Tollgate Technological Skills Centre, W. Ross Macdonald School and the Six Nations Polytechnic STEAM Academy that normally compete in certain individual sports will continue to do so.
Representatives from District 5 and District 9 will each still get berths at CWOSSA.
“It’s a change, yes, but the more that Dave and I have been working through it, we think it’s not that big of a change,” said Petrella.
Some individual sports, like cross-country and track and field, will be held simultaneously, when it makes sense.
“Instead of having a District 5 cross-country meet and a District 9 cross-country meet, we’ll have one meet,” Thomas said. “There would still be the individuals who go off to CWOSSA from (districts) 5 and 9.”
Thomas said one benefit will be that sports that sometimes struggle for teams to form a league – lacrosse and rugby being two – now can join schools from a different county to ensure there is the opportunity for games.
Thomas noted that the new athletic association didn’t have enough time to present its league structure to CWOSSA by the end of the school year so, for the 2020-21 sports season, Haldimand schools will compete in the new association during the regular season but, when it comes time to advance, they’ll still have to go through SOSSA.
Whether there will be fall high school sports due to the coronavirus is an open question. Thomas said the Ministry of Education first must decide how classes will proceed in September and then the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations will figure out what it will do.
“I think our priorities should be, let’s get kids back up academically because they’ve been out of school for six months,” he said.
“It’s not just sports. It’s band, music, drama and all that extracurricular stuff.
“Myself, I think it’s 50-50. The likelihood is we’ll see individual sports – golf, tennis and cross-country – but anything below (students returning) full-time will pretty much end sports.”
Petrella said, although there is still some opposition to the new athletic association, he and Thomas need help going forward.
“At the end of the day, we do this because we want sports at our schools,” he said.
“If people don’t buy into it or volunteer their time as conveners, it’s only going to have a detrimental effect on their schools. Right now, we’re looking at putting conveners in place. The biggest thing right now is getting all 15 high schools to buy in and contribute.”