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The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board suspended all organized sports in early December.

Students cope without sports

Withdrawal of voluntary activities

remains open-ended: union president

By Mike Pearson, News staff

When Nicole Brownell started her Grade 9 year last September at Ancaster High School, she couldn’t imagine a school without sports.

Today she’s been forced to accept that reality after the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board suspended all organized school sports in early December. The cancellation came in response to the withdrawal of voluntary activities by members of the Hamilton-Wentworth Elementary Teachers’ Local in a protest against Bill 115. School clubs, extra curricular activities and some field trips are also impacted.

“I love sports,” said Nicole. “I couldn’t live without them.”

In addition to basketball, softball, golf and track and field, Nicole surprised even herself by making her school’s junior girls volleyball team. The squad held several practices and one exhibition game before players were forced to turn in their uniforms last month.

In February, Nicole hopes to compete at the Hamilton Spectator Indoor Games, but she needs a note from her principal to confirm her eligibility.

For now, Nicole is playing rep basketball for Newman Youth in Stoney Creek and works out with a trainer three times a week. Many of her Newman Youth teammates attend schools in the separate board, where sports are continuing as normal. The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board has already settled with the province on a new contract.

Nicole’s brother Trevor, a Grade 12 student at Ancaster High, compared the atmosphere at his school to a boot camp. With graduation slated for June, Trevor is worried his class may not receive a graduation ceremony or a prom night. A two-time world champion martial artist, Trevor normally demonstrates his skills during an annual holiday talent show. This year’s show was cancelled.

Elementary activities are also impacted.

Lisa Hammond, president of the Hamilton-Wentworth local union, said the withdrawal of voluntary activities remains open-ended with no timeline for teachers to resume participating in activities outside the classroom.

“Our members are choosing to withdraw from voluntary activities,” said Hammond.

Hammond added the local union is still waiting for clarification on key issues from the provincial organization.

Hammond said union leaders are closely monitoring the Liberal leadership race in the hope of reaching a negotiated agreement with the province. She noted leadership hopeful Gerard Kennedy has announced he would tear up Bill 115 and re-start negotiations with the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. Earlier this month, the province used Bill 115 to force contracts on union locals which had not already reached an agreement with their respective school boards.

Bill 115, also called the Putting Students First Act, institutes a framework 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 10 from 20.

While some parents may be thinking about transferring their children to the Catholic board to play sports, Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic School Board chair Pat Daly told Hamilton Community News earlier this month that students who transfer to a new school in the Catholic system must sit out for one year if they have previously competed in a sport, in accordance with the board’s constitution. Some exceptions are made, said Daly, such as if a family moves into a school’s catchment area. Those cases are reviewed by the superintendent responsible for school sports.

-With files from Gord Bowes

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