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Hundreds of young athletes grow more anxious by the day – ACAC season a series of “options”

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While addicts ponder cross their fingers at every hint the National Hockey League’s big-money dance toward a playoff schedule and perhaps a Stanley Cup final sometime this year might be successful, hundreds of young athletes grow more anxious day by day, hoping they get to play at least part of their schedules in various college sports.

And money is close to the least of the concerns for these kids.

The five-day annual spring meeting of Alberta College Athletic Conference institutions ended a week ago with little clarity on the issue although CEO Mark Kosak and various other officials in the 18-team league came away – mostly – with a positive outlook.

As expected, a wide series of “options and alternate start dates” was devised and analyzed, he said.

A committee established to evaluate likely effects of the coronavirus pandemic will meet at least once a week in preparation for “a really big and important meeting dealing with massive variables” on June 25. Many essential details applying to all sports – when to start a season, length of schedule, possible change of regular play into tournament-style competition – will be put on the table.

Progressively, Aug. 1, a date in September and others in January have been debated in depth.

All options remain open, Kosak said, pointing out that safety of athletes, students, spectators and staff remains as the dominant factor in every discussion. Principals at some institutions have made it clear they do not expect any sports to be played in what normally is the ACAC fall season. Close to 50 per cent of the principals have made clear their concern that moving too quickly in one sport or one schedule might destroy all the good that the current cautious program may achieve. If necessary, all games would have to be sacrificed.

The veteran administrator posed one conservative, hypothetical and frightening prospect: A school from a difficult place (where control of COVID-19 might not be at the ideal level) when it goes to play a road game in a safer area. Then, say, one player on the home team comes down with the virus.

“What options are open if that happens?” Obviously, no organization could possibly benefit from such an occurrence. “I understand fully what those presidents are concerned about. At this point, they’re all justified to be worried about the potential for an outbreak on campus.”

Fortunately, Kosak said, all of the presidents recognize the value of college sports, mentioning the appeal of an athletic event, additional enrolment and potential gate receipts. He did not mention students’ enthusiam when they support a successful individual or team, but that element has been demonstrated for as long as athletes have competed at any level of education.

Cost of operation has prompted some ACAC schools to make deep cuts in athletic expenses. “We all have a similar problem” said Kosak. “Each school deals with it as best they can.”

Hockey budgets have been questioned most severely. A few weeks ago, NAIT Ooks head coach Tim Fragle accepted an offer to become head coach and general manager of the Trail Smoke Eaters in the Junior A British Columbia Hockey League.

They are not, of course, the fabled senior Smoke Eaters who won the World Hockey Championship for Canada in 1961, but Fragle treats the switch as a sort of homecoming. He is a former Smoke Eater captain, having played there after his career with the Sherwood Park Crusaders. Fragle was named coach of the year three times for NAIT.

Former Ooks standout Scott Fellnermayr moves up from the assistant’s job to replace Fragle as head coach.

WCBL season cancelled ending the Edmonton Prospects run at Re/Max Field

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WCBL season cancelled ending the Edmonton Prospects run at Re/Max Field

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According to a contract held by the city of Edmonton, COVID-19 has ended the life of the Edmonton Prospects at Re/Max Field.

Until members of the Western Canadian Baseball League voted on Wednesday to write off what would have been a 2020 season, the Prospects were in line to play at the field in Edmonton’s Saskatchewan River valley until the end of the regular schedule or playoffs.

Now, since there will be no WCBL season, there will be no more Prospects in Edmonton unless a one-year agreement can be devised with other park operators that would bridge a one-year gap and keep his team here 2021. He has spoken often of work to be completed on a complex to be developed in the Spruce Grove-Stony Plain area slightly west of Edmonton in time for the 2022 season, by which time a group headed by Randy Gregg will have control of Re/Max.

“I think it would be mighty ambitious to promise a new park would be functioning in time to start a new season less than a year from right now,” Cassidy said in a telephone interview.

The Gregg group won its long-term contract although it has no team at present and has held no meeting with league president Kevin Kvame and other governors about obtaining one. Several involved citizens have advocated that the Prospects and a new team (perhaps the Capitals) ultimately could share playing dates, but Cassidy suggested such an arrangement is unlikely.

“A couple of deals have been presented for us to look at, but they don’t work for us,” Cassidy said. “We offered a deal to the Gregg group but they didn’t accept it, either.”

Evidently, those negotiations will continue into the future. In the meantime, all 10 teams face the necessity to operate with a 2021 start as their most optimistic possibility. Entry of a new Sylvan Lake franchise will add to the enthusiasm, as will the promising ownership and participation structure already taking shape for the Brooks Bombers.

“We had all been kind of hoping that we could start our season in a month or so and get maybe 20 home games for each team,” Cassidy said. “Always, the July 1 long weekend has been good for our league at the gate.” There also had been brief conversation about extending the season into August before starting playoffs – roughly a month later than usual.

“The problem is that every time we got some encouraging news (on lifting lockdown provisions), we got new and discouraging news a day or two later.

“There was not a lot of debate about how we could keep things alive with the information we had, so it was not a hard decision for all of us to make.”

President Kvame expressed regret on “a sad day for the WCBl, our 10 teams, 300-plus players and tens of thousands of fans in Alberta-Saskatchewan, adding that operational costs have been expanding as the league improves and shortening the schedule would only add to potential financial stresses. “We are a gate-generated league. We will mourn the loss of the season for a day or two and then we’ll get busy on 2021.”

The governors’ vote to discontinue plans for the coming season was unanimous, he added.

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