Greater Trail Minor Hockey Association (GTMHA) kicks off a growingly contentious season this month – with no moms or dads allowed in the rink.
Parents in Trail have voiced their dismay about not being allowed in the rink for their kids’ practices and games, and a concerned parent, Nicole Hicks, created a change.org petition in protest.
“With the new rise in Covid numbers we are not asking for the arena to be opened to the public, we are asking for one parent to be allowed to be present for their child,” said hockey parent Paige Hicks. “We are willing to follow all health and safety guidelines, wear a mask, social distance, sanitize. The arena has a max capacity let us at least meet that capacity.”
Initially, the guidelines set out by the Provincial Health Office (PHO) and BC Recreation and Parks Association (BCRPA) allowed for 20 spectators and 20 participants, including one parent to be present inside the arena. However, that changed last month when COVID cases started rising, and new rules said no spectators (or parents) are permitted … period!
“There have been so many changes that have impacted the ability to provide public recreation that at this time, our focus is on our ability to keep facilities open, and giving children and adults the opportunity to simply play the sport,” said Tricia Davison, director of Trail Parks and Recreation.
The adopted protocols set new parameters by identifying and allowing essential participants like coaches, trainers, referees, time/score keepers, and registered volunteers in excess of 50, however, that definition did not include parents or spectators.
“Parents wanting to watch their kids play hockey are not deemed essential,” said Davison.
“I know parents seem to thinks this has come out of thin air, but in actual fact it’s been in discussion for weeks, and minor hockey and all our user groups have been made aware that this is coming.”
There are exceptions for young players, age nine and under, which allows one parent or guardian to accompany them as long as they are registered as essential volunteers with GTMHA.
Trail minor hockey would also like to see at least one parent in the rink to assist and support their children, but are bound to comply with the rules set out by BCPRA, PHO, and viaSport.
“I think as an association, we would definitely support parents, even a limited amount, being allowed in the arenas,” replied GTMHA vice president Jim Maniago. “Minor Hockey is about the kids of course and everyone is glad to have the opportunity to be playing, but there’s no doubt that a big part of growing up in minor sports is having family support.”
Despite early deviations by city councils in Williams Lake and Houston, B.C., the BCRPA urged all Recreation partners and sporting associations in the province to follow the no-spectator regulation and create a united front on compliance.
No spectators also translates into more on-ice participants and stays within the gathering limit of 50 people.
“Our focus continues to be in providing a safe space that focuses on the activity and allows the people to play the activity they’re coming to the space for,” said Davison. “As experience and time tests these protocols, the city and partnering organizations will review what might be possible.
“It would be very difficult for me to go against the guidelines that spectators should not be permitted until after 2020.”
The online petition, fittingly titled “Parents should be allowed at Minor Hockey”, has close to 4,500 signatures and multiple comments in support of parents in the rinks, as well as the pledge to take on the responsbility of self-distancing, sanitizing and safety measures.
“The petition was started to give the parents a voice, to stand up and say we do not agree with these new rules,” said Paige. “If an emergency occurs while our children are at the arena and we are not there, what may happen?
“As well as being there to support our children, cheer for our children and encourage them, these years are precious and it is important for parents to be there for their children.”
Each municipality, Parks and Recreation partner, and sports association is responsible to outline, inform and enforce guidelines of the PHO for public safety. However, the decisions made are not always popular, and often seem unfair to families.
“Playing hockey is a big part of a child’s life and to be cut off from sharing that with family has been hard on people,” added Maniago. “We have definitely lost some kids this year because of COVID and the restrictions.”
The GTMHA season is set to start this week, and will have three rep teams playing in Okanagan Mainline Amateur Hockey Association and House teams competing in the West Kootenay Hockey Association.
All teams are bound into four-team cohorts with the potential of switching them up over the season to vary the opponents teams play.
“We as parents are hoping our municipality as well as minor hockey association will hear us, and understand our concerns and go back to their original decision which was allowing one parent to be present at our children’s hockey games,” added Hicks.