Dancers at the Heart of Riverdale are back in the studio – PHOTO: Heart of Riverdale
Yukon youth are getting the opportunity to return to sport and art programming this fall
As Yukon students head back to the classrooms, schools and teachers are not the only groups working out how to deal with the new normal imposed by COVID-19. Sports and arts organizations are welcoming participants back across the territory, having worked hard to adapt to training young athletes and artists during a pandemic.
“The process was rigorous and, at times, overwhelming due to the evolution of guidelines and information from government, our sport governing body, and Sport Yukon,” said Anne Milton, director of skating at Arctic Edge Skating Club, “At one point I had five different guidelines I was consulting while developing our operating plan.”
Valérie Herdes, artistic director at the Heart of Riverdale echoed those sentiments. Herdes said planning felt slow and impossible because no one knew what fall would look like in terms of new pandemic concerns. When it was decided that Heart of Riverdale would go ahead with fall classes, there was a rush to implement the new COVID safety plan while also balancing the standard fall responsibilities of getting classes up and running.
“We kept finding new problems to solve that we’d never considered before. How will we get the kids to physically distance when they’re using their lockers? What about the parents who gather in the hallway to watch their children’s class?”
All of the hard work the organizations have been putting in has been paying off doors open for Yukon’s youth. As with everything these days, however, things look a little bit different this year.
“The biggest change members will notice in our club is how empty it will feel,” said Kimberly Jones, executive director and head coach of the Polarettes Gymnastics Club.
The Polarettes usually offer 570 spaces in the fall. With COVID, that has been reduced to 290.
When entering the facility, Jones said gymnasts will be greeted by the coach for a health screen. They will then have to sanitize their hands, put their belongings in a tote, wash their hands in the upstairs sink, then enter the gym to start class. Three groupings will run per hour, with gymnasts sanitizing or washing hands between each event rotation, and staff spraying down the equipment with a 70 per cent alcohol solution between groups. Some coaches may wear masks, especially with age groups where physical distancing is difficult, or when a safety spotter is needed.
Jeff Frizzell, president of Whitehorse Minor Hockey highlighted a set of COVID challenges that are unique to certain contact sports.
“Whitehorse Minor Hockey is mandated to follow Hockey Canada’s Return to Play policy which is currently in phase 2,” he said. “Phase 2 consists of getting the kids back on the ice in small groups to work on individual skills, such as skating, passing, shooting. We aren’t yet able to have the kids playing games, or taking part in drills that will have them coming in contact with one another.”
But it’s not just working out how to host games that are proving a challenge for organizations. Working out how to accommodate performances is also proving tricky.
“One of our largest challenges is our dependency on a much bigger organization to enable access to our ‘training ground,’” said Milton. “It is hard to find the way to move our athletes forward with uncertainty around opportunities for competitions, or events to showcase their achievements. The sport of figure skating is often about performing in front of an audience. We do not want to promise something we cannot commit to, so, for now, we are just focused on being back up again and skating strong (and) with intent each day.”
The dancers of the Heart of Riverdale are facing a similar situation.
“Performing on the big stage has always been an important highlight for our students, and the year-end show in May is an event that students and teachers alike work very hard towards,” said Herdes. “It’s normally a big celebration and it creates some closure for the year.”
This past May, that show was cancelled, but Herdes is hopeful that won’t be the case in 2021.
Despite the challenges all of the organizations agree, they’re excited to be offering programming again.
“We are most looking forward to having the kids back in the gym,” said Jones. “We hosted Summer camp this year and it was so nice to have our coaches back together after a mass temporary lay-off in the spring, and see the kids back socializing and trying to give them a level of normality that we’ve all been missing. Now with fall, we hope the kids can feel like it’s the same gymnastics class as always, with a bit more hand-washing!”
Frizzel and Herdes agree. Kids can’t wait for the season to start. Everyone is feeling energized by the idea of being together again.