It’s been more than a year since sports fields in Orléans fell silent thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic which forced the cancellation of organized sports across the board.
Kids of every age spent the winter hoping that the number of active COVID cases would drop, allowing them to return to the sports they love. Those hopes were initially dashed as the third wave which started in early March continued through April and into May.
As the number of active cases began to decline in May, Premier Doug Ford unveiled the province’s reopening plan which allowed for practices of up to 10 kids at a time in Stage 1 which came into effect on June 14. Just over two weeks later, Stage 2 allowed for the resumption of all non-contact minor sports with no specified limit on the number of people or teams participating.
Knowing that the province would move into Stage 3 by July 14 at the latest, the Cumberland Panthers Football Club began planning their first-ever flag football tournament for July 24 and July 25.
Under the Stage 3 regulations, outdoor sports events could be held with up to 1,000 participants and 5,000 spectators. The flag football tournament fell well within both parameters, with just over 750 participants from six different clubs participating in the two-day event.
“We had to go from zero to hundred miles an hour at the snap of an hour,” says Panthers club president Mike Schmidt, who gave most of the credit for organizing the tournament in such a short period of time to non-contact director and former club president Marc Ouellet. “He put all this together and contacted all the teams.
Obviously with there being not much going on for kids sports over the past 18 months there was almost an instant buy-in from all the teams.”
Where just last year there was nothing but silence, there was nothing but laughter, cheers and howls of joy during the flag football tournament.
When asked what they liked best about being able to play flag football again, a group of young boys replied almost in unison – “Getting to play with our friends.”
“This is huge,” said Schmidt, referring to holding the tournament so soon after the province entered Stage 3. “You can tell from how many families are here that they are dying to get outside and the kids want to play flag football and be able to run around and enjoy the sport.”
Elsewhere, play has re-sumed on baseball diamonds and soccer fields across Orléans and the entire city. Orléans Little League Baseball, the Gloucester Hornets and Ottawa TFC have all resumed play under the Stage 3 guidelines.
Men’s and women’s softball leagues have also resumed play as has Ultimate and the Mavericks beach volleyball program.
With Ontario’s vaccination rate expected to reach 80 per cent for fully vaccinated individuals by Labour Day, it’s beginning to look more and more like indoor sports including hockey, lacrosse and indoor soccer will be able to resume this fall, further proof that things are finally getting back to normal.