Basketball and curling.

Those were the last two sports played competitively by Merritt Secondary School athletes before the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the school system, having last hit the court and the sheet in February of 2020.

“I reffed a high school basketball tournament in that last week of February, and then two weeks later, everything was shut down,” said MSS Vice Principal and Athletic Director Gian Cavaliere in a recent sitdown with the Herald.

But fear no more, students, teachers, staff and parents – 18 months later, student athletes are back at it.

Though competitive matches between schools will look different from that pre-pandemic era from long ago, an entire roster of fall sports is on the schedule this semester for the MSS Panthers.

“It’s been brutal,” said Cavaliere, who said he was elated that school sports were returning, though remaining cognizant of the possibility of the return of more restrictions with the ongoing pandemic.

Practices have continued throughout this period, though with so much time away from the game, Cavaliere admits that there is a rebuilding process to athletic programming. Some fall sports have seen lower numbers of participants in tryouts than usual, though he added that others have been chomping at the bit to get back into the game.

“I’m trying to rebuild the athletic culture. We need to rebuild the spirit, and part of that is hosting more tournaments, and encouraging teams to come and compete in Merritt.”

This fall, coaches, refs, scorekeepers, and those sitting on the bench will have to wear masks, though those playing will not be required to do so. All spectators will have to sign in for contact tracing.

“But beside that, sports are back,” said Cavaliere.

Not only are all of the traditional fall sports returning to MSS, like field hockey, aquatics, volleyball, cross-country, and e-sports, there are a few new ways to get involved, including rugby sevens.

“We’re growing in different areas,” said Cavaliere. “Girls field hockey is really growing. It’s been fun to see different sports other than the usual volleyball, basketball soccer, growing.”

For those students looking to get involved, or re-involved, with the athletics department at MSS, there are options outside of being a competitive athlete. MSS offers a Sports Management class that allows students to help out at tournaments.

“Whether it’s making signs, putting together the welcome packages, putting together hotel rates, coupons.”

Looking for volunteer hours, students? Check out the athletic department to volunteer to scorekeep, organize games, organize tournaments, etc.

“Kids are welcome to be a part of the programming,” said Cavaliere. “It’s good for volunteer hours, it’s good for their resume…I’d be happy to write them a reference letter when they apply for a job. I want the athletic program to be engulfed by everyone in the school in every capacity. You don’t have to be an athlete. You can be someone who helps ask businesses for support, even. We’re looking for any kind of help.

“Athletics are always going to be a part of any kind of school program. It’s always going to be a chance to be included, in some avenue. So be a part of it, come help us out.”