Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the school has managed to keep athletics as part of the daily schedule since the school year began in September.
“We appreciate the importance of physical activity and believe it is fundamental to children’s development and well-being,” Ridley director of athletics Jay Tredway said. “They need that physical activity. We need to be able to provide it to them.”
The pandemic forced sports at all levels across the country to shutdown in March, but Tredway said Ridley was determined to find a way to safely incorporate athletics into the schedule this fall.
“It’s been a complete team effort to restore physical education and co-curriculars at Ridley. In fact, our careful planning began in early summer that examined guidance from Sport Canada. At Ridley we were determined to ensure when our students returned to campus in September we would make the experience as safe, and normal as possible.”
Tredway said no stone was left unturned in order to provide athletics in as safe an environment as possible considering the conditions.
“Ridley has done an incredible job of preparing for school. We have revamped the entire schedule with the full intent of allowing for every child to be learning in person each day. Students from JK to Grade 12 are in class every day and thriving."
“We had to change a lot of things, from the way we move around from classes, to how many courses students have in a week, to how we manage meal times. It’s all very different, but rewarding.”
Each school day at Ridley begins with an online health screening procedure for both students and employees. Everyone has their temperature taken upon arrival, and strict visitor policies are in place. This is of course is complemented by masking, physical distancing measures and enhanced disinfecting practices.
“We worked closely with public health for months on end to prepare for our return,” Tredway said. “There are robust plans in place.”
The sport component of the schedule has much to do with the overall environmental plan.
“The school truly values the importance of the co-curricular side of life,” Tredway said. “As we were putting our cohorting strategy together, I have to applaud our leadership because we included a sporting component because it contributes to student vitality.
“That freed us up to do things very differently to use our team structure as the way to deliver the programming.”
The school got a head start when rowing was permitted in June. Rowing directors Derek Schwandt and Siobhan McLaughlin implemented strict protocols in order to allow Ridley athletes return to the water at Henley Island.
Soccer director Paul O’Rourke and hockey directors Mike McCourt and Amanda Wark also had the necessary experience to set up the protocols needed to keep the players safe.
“We have a two-page plan for every sport and we review it regularly,” Tredway said.
The school was able to offer fall four soccer teams, three field hockey teams, two cross country teams, three basketball teams and four rowing programs—all while following public health guidelines. As well, the school ran an outdoor boot camp, outdoor yoga, and cross court volleyball.
“We were able to provide quality physical activity for over 400 students from September thorough to November,” Tredway said.
Some sports, such as basketball, involved more skills and developmental fundamental components while soccer and hockey have been able to return to competition in a regional format.
“It’s been relative to the sport,” Tredway said. “Kids still seem to be very content to be able to play their sport every day. They fact they don’t have weekly competition doesn’t seem to phase them at this particular point in time.”
Tredway said Niagara Public Health has been a huge help as well in setting up practice and game protocols. He feels the fall programs were impressive considering most students were idle during the summer months.
“The vast majority of the students hadn’t been very active for months, so another part of that plan was to take it easy on everybody and work them back into some level of physical fitness. The first term allowed for that,” he said.
The hockey teams have been scrimmaging and working out off-ice, and Tredway said the results have been noteworthy.
“I can’t tell you how proud and impressed we are with this group of teenagers,” he said. “This is not the year they imagined for their senior years. They’re working their tails off. They are getting better all the time so when the opportunity to play does materialize, they seize it.”
Tredway and assistant director of athletics Courtney Smith meet with the school’s athletic council once a week to discuss any issues and way to improve.
“We’ve been running things by them and I will say emphatically they come back with, ‘You tell us what to do to continue to keep playing sports and keeping with our friends and we’ll do it.’
“I think we often blow off teenagers and young adults as only caring about themselves but what’s obvious about the responses is it’s more about the connections. They want the connections with their friends, they want their outlets. A lot of kids need that to stay level and to deal with whatever else is happening in their lives. They value it, so they respect the mitigation measures also.”
To date, there have been no positive tests for any of the students or employees at the school.
“I think the school has done a really great job of messaging the importance to families that we’re all in this together,” Tredway said. “It’s shared responsibility. They are in this advantageous position. A lot of their peers don’t get to go to school every day and it can only stay that way if you do your part. We’re getting to do sport everyday. It can only stay that way if you do your part.”