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Despite pandemic, Barrie athletes and organizations still managed to make their mark in 2020

Many local athletes still found ways to persevere amid challenging conditions in 2020

COVID-19 brought the sporting world to a grinding halt and wreaked havoc with schedules and tournaments, forcing the cancellation of many events in 2020.

Yet through these trying times of isolation, social distancing and missing the things we loved most, local athletes and organizations still found a way to make the most of a year many of us were happy to be done with.

From winning national skating titles to becoming the first female scout in the Ontario Hockey League and raising money for health-care workers and families in need, Barrie organizations and athletes set out to make a difference and did they ever.

No pandemic was going to stop them from making their mark and BarrieToday is happy to highlight some of those achievements and contributions that make us realize there was plenty of good in 2020 despite the adversity and look forward to a 2021 knowing there are plenty of great sporting stories ahead.  

Jessie Eldridge kicked off 2020 in fine fashion, sporting a national team jersey and representing Canada in women's hockey.

The Barrie native was beaming after taking the ice with the national team against Team USA in the 2019-20 Rivalry Series.

The former Barrie Sharks player was one of 15 forwards invited by Hockey Canada to represent Canada in the final three games of the five-game series.

"I think any young girl watching TV, it's a dream of hers to see her idols out there," said Eldridge, who was trying to earn a spot with the national team for the Women's World Hockey Championships scheduled for April in Nova Scotia before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the event.

"And being able to actually be on the ice wearing that jersey is always something you've dreamed of and until it happens you never really know what it feels like or how much it means to you," Eldridge told BarrieToday in February.   

Local swimmer and Western University student Ella Rennie made a big splash with four medals at the Ontario University Athletics Swimming Championships held at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre the same month.

The St. Joseph's High School graduate won gold in both the 400-metre individual medley (IM) and 200-m breaststroke events, a bronze in the 200-m IM and another medal in the 400-m medley relay. She would also discover at the meet that she was named the OUA female rookie of the year.

"Some practices and some periods within the last couple of years have been quite bumpy and just knowing that I was able to get back up after rough times and everything falling into perfect place right now is an amazing feeling," Rennie said at the time.

Kiana Scott has an eye for hockey talent and the Barrie native was hired in March by the OHL's Erie Otters to be their bantam scout, becoming the first female scout in the OHL.

"She's got an incredible work ethic and she's pretty passionate, too, which makes a big difference," Otters general manager Dave Brown said of Scott.   

Barrie Innisdale Secondary School graduate Rachel Hannah, one of Canada's top marathoners, kept on the move during the pandemic and urged runners across the country to take to the streets for a good cause and join the #MyIsolationRun movement this summer.

Participants could run any distance and then choose one of more than 72 COVID-19 related charities and donate to help support health-care workers in their local communities.

Former Barrie Colts 'AAA' minor midget graduate Connor Corcoran hopes when he goes to Vegas over the next few years he gets to stay in Vegas.

The Windsor Spitfires defenceman signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the NHL's Golden Knights in early June.

"I'm ready to go to work, whatever it is, and hopefully I can shine when they give me the chance," the Knights' fifth-round pick (154th overall) in the 2018 NHL Draft said. 

Barrie native Jesse Kool was able to land a full baseball scholarship at West Virginia Tech, while the Mariposa School of Skating navigated a "totally new landscape," going from virtual lessons to being back on the ice with programs for skaters of all ages this summer. 

The Barrie Soccer Club was able to find a way to get back to game action on the field in mid-July after receiving new Phase 2 guidelines from Ontario Soccer. That allowed them to get their house league back up and running.

"We were unsure if we would have a season at all, would we even get authorization from Ontario Soccer," said BSC president Michelle Gerdis at the time. "But we wanted to really promote healthy living and soccer for the kids, so we tried our best to stay open as long as we could."

Local native Tyson Foerster had a standout second season with his hometown Barrie Colts and as a result the winger was selected 23rd overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2020 NHL Draft in early October.

The sniper even caught the attention of popular Flyers mascot Gritty, who immediately fired off a tweet to Foerster after his name was called.

"I just can't wait to get things started now," said the forward, who celebrated his big night with family at their home in Alliston. 

The Barrie Baycats encouraged the local community to step up and donate used equipment and baseball clothes so they can ship it to the Dominican Republic and help young children and players of all ages who often don't have the proper equipment.

"A lot of these players come from nothing," Baycats general and field manager Josh Matlow said. "Even our imports, they tell us the stories, show us pictures."

Barrie Central Collegiate graduate Jennifer Wong, who now lives in England, is making her own difference in parasport around the world. The Commonwealth Sport Canada (CSC) presented Wong with the organization's Sport Development Award in recognition of her work as a SportWORKS Office at the CSC's annual general meeting in late September.

Former Barrie Colt Joe Blandisi has been anxiously waiting for the NHL season to start, but the loss of his grandfather in late November inspired the member of the Montreal Canadiens organization to make a difference by starting a GoFundMe in honour of Frank Guglietti to help raise money for Holiday Helpers Canada.

The organization helps low-income families in the Toronto area with a one-time personalized Christmas package.

Barrie's Lex Albrecht found it tough to deal with at first when COVID-19 brought her competitive cycling season to a grinding halt, but the former Canadian National Road Cycling Team member headed to Tucson, Ariz., to train and discovered the forced changes by the pandemic helped her reconnect with her pure passion for cycling.

"I could just go out and ride to my heart's content," the 33-year-old said. "I have such a strong love for riding my bike and it was real cool not to think about any other factors except just having as much fun as I can. That's been so cool."   

Then there was the Mariposa School of Skating ice-dance pair of Olivia Rybicka-Oliver and Joshua Andari putting on the performance of their lives in a near-empty Sadlon Arena in early December to capture a gold medal in the Polish Junior National Championship.

While the pandemic required the Mariposa duo to perform their rhythm dance and free skate routines virtually and under strict competition and video guidelines, and with no boisterous crowd to cheer them on, the pair turned to one another for a big part of the motivation they needed.

"Most every competition we do there's a crowd and it motivates us and this year when there wasn't a crowd Olivia and I really used each other as motivation," said Andari, who, along with Rybicka-Oliver, won a silver at last year's Polish nationals. "Even looking at each other on the ice we knew that we were doing this for ourselves and that really gave us a sense of unity. When there was no on there in the stands, we always had each other."

A sense of unity that we hope as a community we can carry into 2021. Adversity will always arrive at some time and it's how you respond to it, and Barrie athletes and organizations reminded us that together we can all still achieve so much even in trying times.

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Gene Pereira

About the Author: Gene Pereira

An award-winning journalist, Gene is former sports editor of the Barrie Examiner and his byline has appeared in several newspapers. He is also the longtime colour analyst of the OHL Barrie Colts on Rogers TV
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