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Bear Creek student athletes eager to see high-school sports return

'It's really hard and will have a big impact on people looking to get scholarships in the future, and staying in shape,' says local teen
2020-09-02 Elliott Barber
Elliott Barber is shown with the Bear Creek Kodiaks football team. Photo credit: Dave Barber

Elliott Barber admits he's normally too focused on high school and football to watch much news on TV.

The Bear Creek Secondary School student usually spends his free time working out in the gym or on the gridiron with the Kodiaks in the fall or Huronia Stallions come summer time.

But a lot has changed since COVID-19 grinded the world to a halt and along with it many sports in late-March. So, too, have Barber's TV viewing habits changed. 

"I just hope everyone can play their part and wear masks, and social distance," the 15-year-old Barrie resident told BarrieToday. "I used to never look at the news and now I've been looking at the news more than ever. I'm always asking my dad, 'Are the cases lower? Are the cases lower?' I'm always looking to see if there's good news and if the cases are lower, and seeing, as fast as possible, when we can get back on the field.

"More than ever, I'm looking at the news and hoping that there's good news, that hopefully they're getting closer to a vaccine or ... making better progress for something that can help us make this COVID-19 go away."

Barber, who is heading into Grade 11 this year, loves playing football and was looking forward to moving up to the Kodiaks senior football program this fall. But with the province still in Stage 3 of its reopening plan, the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) cancelling its 2020 fall championships and the Simcoe County District School Board stating they would only resume physical-education classes and activities that support physical distancing, the writing appears on the wall.

While the public board has still not made an official decision regarding high-school sports, the OFSAA cancellation likely means no football.

"I heard the news and I was just devastated," Barber said of the OFSAA cancellation of fall championships and festivals. "I've been working my butt off and I was so happy for going into my senior year, because I had a really good junior year. I had 15-and-a-half sacks, a pick 6 (interception returned for a touchdown), and a lot, a lot of tackles, and I was just so excited getting ready for my senior year. I was really hoping to start my senior year and then I heard the news and I was just devastated.

"I didn't know what to do because I have a huge workout set and I started to grind super hard. My bench is up to 220 pounds now and I was just so ready to go off with my team and put in massive work every single day, and be with the brothers on those bus rides," he added. 

Brynn Kaplan almost spends as much time on a court, field or track as she does in a classroom at Bear Creek, located in the city's south end. The Grade 11 student plays for the girls volleyball team, flag football team, tennis team, and is a member of the Kodiaks track-and-field squad.

The coronavirus pandemic already ended last season's sports schedule early and now it appears those cancellations will continue and keep sporting diehards like herself off the court.

"Honestly, at the beginning it was really difficult because all my sports were just peaking," Kaplan said of the initial shutdown. "It was definitely really weird and hard to find other things to do."

And a fall season without sports won't be any easier.

"It's really hard and will have a big impact on people looking to get scholarships in the future, and staying in shape and staying trained," Kaplan told BarrieToday.

An outside linebacker and defensive end, Barber already missed a summer with the Stallions where he was to head into his second season of junior varsity as one of the leaders and a chance to strut his game in front of numerous university scouts.

He misses his teammates and friends and the camaraderie they share on the football field.

"Football is a big sport for being with your brotherhood," added Barber, who celebrates his 16th birthday this weekend. "Your practising every day, you're being with the same people every day. That's one of the things with football that makes it so special, is that you're always with your brotherhood. You make new friends.

"For the Stallions, I started when I was six years old and I've been with same guys now up to almost 16. I've been playing with them every single year," he said. "That's the one thing that sucks about all this. I was really looking forward to seeing all my friends and looking forward to playing football and playing against all my other friends at other high schools, especially in my senior year. It'd be intense."

Kaplan has played rep volleyball for four years now, but provincials were cancelled. She was set to play beach volleyball this year, but that was also squashed.

She admits all of this hasn't been easy on her and her friends.

"It has a huge mental impact on everybody," Kaplan said. "Sports are a way for students, a release and can be somewhere to go, be happy. ... You feel good about yourself and feel comfortable, feel confident with your friends. It's definitely been difficult not being able to see everybody and knowing that going into this year.

"I know if I have a really big test or got something big coming up if I go to practice and have a great practice my night will be better," she added. "You don't end up having a team foundation and it definitely has a huge impact on the students."

Barber has continued to work out at home. He's tried to remain positive, but admits these past few months haven't been easy.

"I try to handle it as best as possible and not try to get too down," he said. "It's very different for me because I've never been in this situation and having to handle not really going outside and stuff closed down. I haven't been used to this, but I try to handle it as best as possible.

"I keep my head up and keep positive, but it's very hard because I'm not able to go practice with the boys with my gear on and everything like that. We have to be in Stage 4 before we can play again," Barber added. "I just keep positive and keep doing the things that I can do now."

Earning a football scholarship remains his goal and he knows a big part of that is doing well in the classroom.

"I know I'm good at sports; I just have to keep my grades up and keep doing what I have to do," Barber said. "Stay after school, do whatever I have to do to keep my grades up."

Kaplan says she understands why the decisions have been made regarding the pandemic and the importance of keeping everyone safe, but admits it'd be disappointing not to step on a court or field this school year.

"Everything I do has something to do with sports," said Kaplan, who is on the athletic committee at Bear Creek. "A lot of my volunteer hours go into scorekeeping, or I wanted to get my referee (certificate) for volleyball this year. It's going to be a lot harder for me to get volunteer hours over the next year. It'll definitely impact that as well."

Barber says he can't wait until they find a way past the pandemic and get back to some sense of normalcy, back to when he and his teammates are going full tilt on the gridiron.

"All my boys are so eager to get back on the field," he said. "I don't think we've ever been more eager to get back on the field and be together, because that's what all my friends love to do: Just be with each other and be on the grind. We can't do it now and it's just a big disappointment."