INNISFAIL – With provincial pandemic restrictions not scheduled for any changes until the end of next March, coupled with uncertainty over the new Omicron variant, there are fears within the Innisfail Minor Lacrosse Association the third season in a row could be lost.
There are also worries that even if the 2022 season does go ahead the loss of the two previous competitive seasons may have created a dramatic player development downturn that could lead to unintended injuries.
“That is actually one of my biggest concerns,” said Jon Weddell, president of the association (IMLA), noting the last time his son played was in the U12 division, and now he’s eligible to play in U16. His daughter was once U10 but can now suit up for U14.
“That is a big jump. They both have missed an entire division. It’s a much different game you are moving into,” he said. “Granted, the other players will be in the similar boat, which is good in some aspects but anytime I am coaching when a player gets injured it is my biggest fear."
“I have concerns that by missing all that time and missing entire divisions kids will have forgotten how to do body contact properly and safely,” he added. “I worry we will see more injuries than normal in our next season.”
Nevertheless, the 11-member IMLA board recently met and is moving forward to have a competitive March to June season for 2022. Registrations for the seven divisions, from U6 to the new U18, begin online (www.innisfaillacrosse.com) on Jan. 15.
Last year, despite being able to offer just twice a week drills and skills sessions from March to May, the association attracted 110 registered players, slightly down from normal seasons when it had 120.
Weddell said the goal of the IMLA for the coming season is to declare a team for each of the seven divisions, adding officials are expecting some attrition from players who opted to move on after not experiencing competitive action since 2019.
As well, there also could be family no-shows because of objections to a possible future REP, which is currently in place at the Arena only for adult programming.
However, if conditions are not right to have the first full competitive season it will put even more additional stress on the IMLA at a time when registrations for the future are already showing strain.
“It does feel like a déjà vu all over again, sort of a scenario whereas we move into winter things are ramping up again and if we lose a third season in a row it could be years and years and years before lacrosse really recovers,” he said.
“Part of what stabilized our numbers last year was that we had really big recruitment in the lower U6 and U8 divisions. That helped bring people in and really motivated volunteers.
“But our older divisions, the U16 in particular, was fairly stripped out of players who just didn’t bother coming back because they were discouraged by losing the previous season. They’re a little older and wiser and could see the writing on the wall that 2021 had limited chance of being a normal season.”
Weddell said the best hope for the path forward is “some stability”, as there has been a constant cycle of on and off COVID restrictions, with varying levels of severity, which he added, doesn’t benefit anyone in the long run.
If the season does start in March the association is assuming they will have to abide with COVID restrictions similar to what youth user groups at the Arena are now experiencing.
Association officials are hoping for the best, but noted ominously COVID guidelines were constantly changing prior and during the vastly modified 2021 season, he said.
“It was crazy to think ahead a week let alone months. COVID has been hard on everything,” he said. “It doesn’t matter which side of the argument you are on. It causes stress. It has a divisive effect on groups of all types, whether its town council or volunteer boards, because people are reacting emotionally to the situation.
“It’s too soon to worry about what the restrictions may or may not be but it's a worry about what the overall impact might be.”