It won't be a typical OFSAA championship. But, tournament convenor Craig Nodwell and an army of volunteers and supporters made it a point to augment the experience for the players and coaches by making the mundane memorable.
Yes, the tournament's field lost two teams due to COVID-19 situations in Timmins and Sudbury. And, the health protocols caused the cancellation of the popular pre-tournament banquet.
Instead, hosts Chippewa Secondary School and the tournament committee created a red-carpet registration Wednesday night featuring semi-formal attire, swag bags and team photos. Student volunteers, dressed to the nines, helped out by welcoming the competitors to the city and the school.
Students have missed out on organized sports for parts of two years and Nodwell says there are five students on Chippewa’s team who returned for their fifth year at secondary school to play and “it means a lot to finish their athletic careers on the right note [by participating in a provincial tournament].” Despite the challenges caused by COVID-19, as a convenor and coach, Nodwell wants to put on “the best championship we can...I want it to be a show for these student-athletes.”
Nodwell is also an educator and coach at Chippewa. He says hundreds — quite likely thousands — of hours have gone into making this OFSAA Boys 'AA' volleyball tournament a successful venture as play gets underway, Thursday, at West Ferris and Chippewa, with the gold medal game set for Saturday afternoon on the host's home court.
This will be "take two" for this championship as the pandemic caused the cancellation of last year’s championship, scheduled for North Bay. Fans will be absent from the championship because of the protocols of both NNDSB and OFSAA, but games will be streamed. YourTV will broadcast the quarter-final and semi-final games from Chippewa, including Saturday's championship final at 1 p.m.
The Near North District School Board and OFSAA have protocols that must be followed that caused the modifications from typical OFSAA championships. Nodwell notes those stringent protocols are in place to keep everyone safe and following them means that student-athletes are able to play and compete.
"We've got nine excellent teams coming to town, with Chippewa, they're going to be battling for an OFSAA gold medal in our gyms," he says. "The North Bay community has really gotten behind us and supported us through sponsorships and many Chippewa alumni are doing their part."
The tournament convenor is grateful for the support of colleagues in organizing the OFSAA event. Nodwell says area secondary schools — even those located outside of North Bay — are making contributions to the championship. The principal of West Ferris Secondary School offered gyms for games to be held, the principal of F.J. McElligott Secondary School in Mattawa provided two staff members to help run two of the gyms, staff at Northern Secondary School in Sturgeon Falls convened the Nipissing District Athletics (NDA) league this year, which provided a direct route to hosting OFSAA and a staff member at Laurentian Learning Centre was released to help with photography and media projects for the championships.
The executive team at NNDSB has been supportive of Nodwell’s efforts, the COVID-19 management team has guided him in the processes to safely run the tournament and some students are getting optional certifications toward their Specialist High Skills Majors. “There are so many cool, collaborative projects at Near North,” says Nodwell.
NNDSB’s Director of Education, Craig Myles, says “As a life-long athlete, coach and teacher, I am so encouraged to see the return of sporting competitions. OFSAA is the pinnacle of sports in Ontario secondary schools. My hope is that these opportunities for students will continue to resurface as we navigate through the changing COVID-19 environment.
“The health and safety of our staff and students are paramount,” says Myles, “so I would like to recognize everyone who is going above and beyond to organize these events for students amidst the health and safety considerations, with a special thanks to Craig Nodwell. Best of luck to the athletes!”