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Pickleball anyone?


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Pickleball anyone?

A few weeks ago, just after the nation-wide shutdown of almost all public facilities had reached or approached its peak, citizens began to speak out, some of them loudly and often, about the need for a quick return of sports.

Much of the noise was generated, of course, by those who wanted (and still want) the National Hockey League to complete its season and award a 2020 Stanley Cup – yes, even if the only acceptable playoff system finds room for an astonishing 20 teams.

Close behind in their enthusiasm were fans of the NBA, the NFL and Major League baseball. Many, notably supporters or horse racing, confirmed their major urge was betting: a simple chance to wager a dollar or two on the outcome of some physical competition worth notice, at least occasionally. Others in this part of North America spoke fondly of the exciting Toronto Raptors or hopefully that the Blue Jays were finally becoming competitive again.

Getting fans into the building was much less important than providing a spectacle of sorts on television. Those 40- to 50-inch screens provide all the insight many would require, and major-league teams would receive millions in sponsorship if only some way could be found to keep players from breathing on each other near the net, in the corners, under the hoop or at the plate.

Individuals who run or jump or throw in Olympic-style competition are also free to claim there is safe space around them as they practice.

Those noises are continuing, of course, but they have been dwarfed by a much larger group – golfers who maintain with commendable logic that their game takes place on healthy, green fields that cover dozens, perhaps hundreds, of acres.

The freedom to compete without rubbing shoulders was, or should have been, totally obvious, they insist. No need for two sitting side-by-side in carts. No need to continue the tradition of suddenly-dangerous handshakes after a good putt or pats on the head in consolation after a drive somehow finds nearby water.

To a lesser extent, the same could be said about tennis and badminton. The net provides a perpetual barrier.

And now, there’s another one: pickleball.

A friend mentioned this sport a few weeks back and a friend then recovering from knee surgery said she hoped to get back to playing as soon as possible. It first came into view a few years ago, when organizers of the Alberta 55-plus Games (now the Alberta Seniors Masters Games) volunteered to become part of the 55-plus event. A strong point was made that they should be trusted to conduct their own scheduling and playoff planning.

It’s safe to bet that pickleball is, or will be, in the works for future provincial senior competitions, if ever such multi-participant sports gatherings are permitted in this time of shrinking government investment in sports. Word is “It’s easy to play and helps get us into shape.”

My next exposure to this mysterious game came two years ago on the shores of Wasa Lake, near Kimberley. Operators of a tourist facility insisted the game was as much fun for spectators as for players. I did not have a chance to test that theory. Soon, I hope, another chance will come.

It’s worth noting that pickleball requires space about the size of a badminton court. Small rackets and balls are used. The net is standard size – whatever that means.

Most games, I’m told, end quickly and each point can be exciting. In this province, Eight zones have been established for competitive reasons. Registered members total more than 5,000. Leagues exist in major centres like Edmonton and Calgary, mid-sized communities like Lethbridge, Camrose and Red Deer, and smaller centres such as Rockyview and Rockyford.

When pickleball receives official clearance, I expect we’ll all learn quickly. Provincial executive members say it is the fastest growing sport in the province.

Pickleball, anyone.

Click here to read more of John’s stories.

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More questions than answers on NHL scheduling

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Rumours are the lifeblood of sports. Few will argue the accuracy of such a statement. Perhaps the reason they draw so much attention on talk shows and in face-to-face conversation is the inevitable growth of broad and open discussions over a period of time.

Often, in sport and in every attention-getting issue, these debates take the simplest possible form: one group of gripers against another group of gripers. In the best of circumstances logic takes the place of emotion and the reasonable point of view is accepted.

Not always, of course.

Edmonton has much to offer in its bid, obviously starting with the region’s success in its war with coronavirus.

NHL scheduling — do they play or not? should they play or not? – has dominated these arguments almost since the first wide knowledge that COVID-19 had brought its crippling threat to North America. At times, the noise of fans desperate for the game and those who find desperate reason to keep everything, including sports events, locked down for the longest possible period has threatened to overshadow all but the most vital question of personal health and survival.

Self-distancing is at the root of all debates. Stay home as much as possible. Wear masks. Stay at least three metres away from other humans, except those who live in the same residence. Obviously, this has been good advice and continues to be.

But calls for a looser application of these valid regulations have apparently become the majority opinion. Larger social groups have been approved. More customers are allowed in many businesses than was the case only a few days ago. Haircuts are allowed, at long last.

Most important in the context of sports, golf courses and other athletic and fitness facilities have been opened. Beaches, too, but indoor swimming pools – in Edmonton anyway are still off-limits.

As I’m sure you know, the two-metre (roughly six feet) between unrelated individuals is still recommended.

Nowhere is the debate more heated than in talk of the NHL playoffs. Edmonton’s anxiety to become a so-called “hub” city for half of the games has been covered to the point of mental exhaustion for me, but still there are more questions than answers.

The biggest complaint seems to be articulated by those who think the NHL should live by the same rules as the rest of us. Many have complained in public at any suggestion that the 14-day isolation requirement for newcomers to the province should stay in place, even if it means the NHL and communication outlets in both North American nations would have to take their attractions to a city more welcoming.

Government officials insist that all possible precautions will be kept in place as newcomers arrive for the necessary training. The testing and recovery ratios are among the best in the world, but still concerns are expressed in strident tones. Edmonton has much to offer in its bid, obviously starting with the region’s success in its war with coronavirus.

From the standpoint of supporters, the status of Rexall Place among the very best facilities in the world should count as a major plus in the argument. Vancouver and Toronto have placed what they consider strong competitive bids. Vancouver’s COVID-19 numbers are in the same positive category as Edmonton’s. The same cannot be said for Toronto.

In only a short while, we’ll all learn whether Toronto’s financial opportunities overshadow the clear health advantages in smaller, western cities.


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

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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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june, 2020

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