By Mike Pearson, News staff
Youth athletes already missing out on school sports will be also relegated to the sidelines during this week’s Hamilton Indoor Games.
As public elementary and secondary school teachers continue to boycott extracurricular activities, one of Canada’s oldest indoor track meets gets underway today (Feb. 21) at Copps Coliseum.
Bill Urie, media coordinator for the Hamilton Indoor Games, said the 88th annual event will continue this year, despite a dramatic drop in registrations.
“Our numbers are down 40 per cent, probably even 50 per cent in some events,” said Urie.
The games’ registration deadline was extended from Feb. 9 to Feb. 15, but according to rules, athletes not currently competing on a school team must receive consent from a principal.
With some exceptions, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board suspended all school athletics in early December when teachers withdrew from voluntary activities. The job action was taken in response to the provincial Liberal government’s Bill 115 which froze wages and imposed contracts on teachers who did not previously reach agreements with their respective school boards.
“It’s going to be up to the principal of each school to whether they will allow individual athletes to compete under their school colours,” said Urie.
Despite the lag in registrations, Urie said the two-day track meet has met minimum registration numbers and will proceed.
“We’re just disappointed the conflict has gone on this long,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ancaster parent Chris Brownell was still hoping to get his Grade 9 daughter Nicole into this week’s games, despite failing to get the required signature on a consent form.
“It’s definitely disappointing for all the kids,” said Brownell.
Brownell spent about $600 on outside training to help Nicole prepare for the meet. He agreed to act as a volunteer coach for his daughter, as required by the consent form.
Nicole has competed in the event during the last two years and was looking forward to her first appearance as a high school athlete.
Chantal Mancini, local president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation of Ontario, said the union’s message to teachers has not changed since early December when members chose to withdraw from extracurriculars. While some sports, such as girls hockey have resumed, most sports remain shelved during the ongoing labour dispute.
“It’s still a wait-and-see approach,” said Mancini.
While discussions are underway between the union and the new provincial government, Mancini would not discuss specific details. Bill 115 has been repealed, but contracts imposed on teachers remain in effect. Bill 115 set out a framework for contract settlements that includes a two-year wage freeze, an end to retirement payouts of up to six months of unused sick days and a cut in annual sick days to 11 from 20.
Local MPP Ted McMeekin said restarting extracurricular activities is a major priority for the new government under Premier Kathleen Wynne and new education minister Liz Sandals.
Conducted by the 91st Highlanders Athletic Association, elementary school athletes will vie for the McDonald’s Team Trophy on Thursday. Secondary athletes will compete for the Foot Tools team trophy on Friday.
Action begins at 9:30 a.m. for elementary games and 9 a.m. for secondary events, with most events completed by 6 p.m.