Local school sports scene up and running
Throughout District #58, there’s a real air of excitement surrounding the start of school sports this September.
Gone is the uncertainty that pervaded all of last year’s athletics as a result of the teachers’ job action, and the subsequent compromising or cancellation of a large number of extra-curricular activities.
Adding to the excitement level is the re-configuration of the district’s student population as a result of the closure of Coquihalla Middle School this summer. All area grade seven students are remaining at their respective elementary schools for one more year, while all grade eight students have moved on, one year earlier than expected, to Merritt Secondary School.
“We’re very happy to have the grade sevens back,” states elementary sports council spokesperson Lisa Nelson-Smith who teaches at Nicola Canford Elementary. “We’re looking forward to the higher skill level and positive leadership that the older students will bring to our sports teams.”
MSS athletic director Brent Bowden is just as upbeat about the influx of grade eights into his school’s sports programs.
“The energy throughout the school is awesome. The arrival of the grade eights is going to result in us having more continuity in our sports programs from one year to the next in terms of skills development and systems.
According to Nelson-Smith the five Merritt-based elementary schools plan to run all their traditional inter-school sports programs over the course of the year, and even offer a few more if enough coaches can be found.
“The year starts as usual with our highly-successful cross-country runs at the noon hour,” stated Nelson-Smith. “They’ll be three Wednesday runs: September 26 at Central Park (hosted by Bench Elementary), October 3 at the Nicola Valley Band School, and on October 10 at Collettville Elementary. In addition, Bench will once again host an Ekiden sash relay, on Friday, October 5.”
Soccer interest in Merritt is growing in leaps and bounds, and area elementary schools expect record numbers of boys and girls to participate in the fall season.
“Some schools will be running as many as four teams, with junior and senior squads for both boys and girls,” says Nelson-Smith. “Convenor Vince Kanigan from Bench plans to have several play days prior to the district tournament on Thursday, October 18. Each play day will see four or more teams gather at one venue for a quick set of round robin games.”
As the weather turns in late October, elementary students will move indoors for the sport of volleyball which will be convened by teacher Nicole Bouchard from Collettville School. The district tournament date has been set for Friday, November 30.
After Christmas, Nelson-Smith and principal Leroy Slanzi at Central Elementary will team up to convene a pair of sports in tandem. Grade four and five students will play the very inclusive game of handball, while grade six and seven students will tackle the equally popular but more sophisticated sport of basketball. Specific tournament dates have still to be decided.
The elementary sports year will culminate with each school’s annual track meet in the spring, and the storied district track meet in early June.
Meanwhile, over at Merritt Secondary, Bowden states that lots of things are happening this fall.
Both the boys’ soccer team and all three girls’ volleyball teams have begun or are about to begin their regular season schedules. Cross-country runners are busy training for their first meets, and a swim club is trying to be formed to take part in both the Okanagan and B.C. Championships in October and November respectively.
In addition, an MSS Fitness & Conditioning Club has been started for athletes involved in all high school sports.
“Teachers Dave Anderson and JP Lancaster started the club to try and get some off-season and pre-season training and conditioning happening with our athletes,” Bowden explains. “In order for us to compete effectively with teams in Kamloops and beyond, the feeling is that we not only have to raise the profile of our sports teams, but do some additional training as well so that our athletes are better prepared.”
For MSS volleyball teams, an additional challenge this fall has been the lack of a home gym. Merritt Secondary’s gymnasium is being renovated, with new retractable bleachers being installed, and the changerooms receiving a major retrofit.
While the construction is taking place, volleyball teams are having to use the former CMS gym for all their practices and any home games.
“Our gym should be completed by the beginning of November,” says Bowden, “but it’s construction, so there’s probably going to be some give and take on the finishing date.”
The new bleachers will add several metres of additional floor space to the MSS gym, something that Bowden says will be very valuable for not only extra-curricular sports but regular P.E. classes, too.
“If, down the road, we can take advantage of that extra space and re-configure [re-line] our floor completely for the likes of volleyball and basketball, I’ll be really ecstatic.”
To take some of the burden off the tremendous amount of time put in by volunteer coaches at MSS, Bowden states that an Athletic Committee has been formed at the school, comprised of other volunteers willing to lend a hand.