IN a normal year, Kelsey McKay and the Vincent Massey Trojans would be prepping for Week 2 of the Winnipeg High School Football League schedule.
It’s much different in 2021 as high school sports emerge from the COVID-19 shutdown.
The pandemic cost the WHSFL an entire season. In 2021, organizers are plotting a slow roll-out to a season that should begin on Oct. 1.
Massey will begin its second week of practice Tuesday in keeping with the deliberate return-to-play plan rolled out by the schools.
During the first week of classes, contact was limited. This week, players will be in full equipment for the first time.
"Considering we haven’t played tackle football in two years — I think it was 662 days between ANAVETS Bowl in 2019 and our first practice — these weeks of preparation are actually pretty important," said McKay, Vincent Massey’s head coach.
"A good chunk of our players, let’s say our Grade 11s, they didn’t have a JV season last year so some of the things they would learn in JV they’re learning in Grade 11 and varsity. We’re doing it the right way for the kids."
McKay said the enthusiasm for football was high at Massey, a football powerhouse. Turnout at tryouts was above average for both the varsity and junior varsity programs.
"The kids want to go back to normal," said McKay. "They want to enjoy their high school years and so it’s been fantastic. They’ve been really excited to be out there with their teammates and their friends. They’ve been extremely coachable. They really want to just enjoy the game the best they can and learn and have fun."
The regular season will have a different look, with a reduced schedule and teams arranged in three- or four-team competitive pods to reduce the risk of virus transmission.
"I would imagine we should have five games per school plus plus playoffs," said incoming league commissioner Rick Henkewich. "We’re working on creating the pods, where we used to have three divisions. (The divisional alignment) has been put on hold right now and we’re just trying to build pods, based on regions and competitiveness."
Staging and scheduling games is not an easy business for the WHSFL. Henkewich said some schools will be grappling with reduced budgets for athletics and limited access to dressing rooms on the road.
With a compressed schedule, teams are likely to be forced to add Saturday dates and play on fields equipped with lights. Henkewich said the league is hoping to get access to lighted fields such as East Side Eagles Field, Charleswood Broncos Field, St. Paul’s, North Winnipeg Nomads Field and IG Field.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.
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