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Parents, kids protest in Olds for a return to play

Crowd gathers outside MLA Nathan Cooper's Olds constituency office

OLDS - A crowd of about 30 parents and youth gathered outside MLA Nathan Cooper’s Olds constituency office last week to protest current provincial COVID restrictions preventing participation in organized sports.

“We just want to get our kids back on the playing field, we want to get their lives back and we want to get them out of depression. They need a life,” said protest co-organizer Darline Dallas during the Jan. 18 event. “And I believe COVID is real, yes it is, but the survival rate is ridiculous. We don’t need to be locked up.”

Effective Dec. 13 group physical activities, including team sports, fitness classes and training sessions, are prohibited or restricted across Alberta.

All indoor recreation facilities including gyms, fitness and recreation centres, arenas, pools and indoor rinks were ordered closed.

Indoor group physical activities are prohibited unless the activity involves students at a school or post-secondary institution as part of an education program.

The restrictions are taking a toll on kids’ mental health, said Dallas.

“Depression. Seeing it in a lot of kids. They’re bored. Their whole life has been taken away. They need their friends, they need their teammates, they need to be with other people besides mom and dad and they need to have something to do,” she said.

Her two sons are involved in hockey while her daughter curls and swims.

For rural kids, the restrictions are especially hard, she said.

“In Central Alberta, a lot of us are farmers so we live out on acreages. They can’t just go outside and skate with five other kids,” said Dallas.

One of her sons, Dekkam, expressed his frustration with the current restrictions as he held a sign during the protest, shouting as passing drivers blared their horns in response to the gathering.

“We’re just wondering, we’re allowed to go to school, get COVID, bring it back to our families but we’re not allowed to go have fun at a rink and get some exercise. They keep us cooped up all day so we’re having a peaceful protest. We’re all socially distanced. We’ve got our masks and we’re trying to spread the word,” said Dekkam.

École Olds High School athlete Adam Jorgenson, 16, joined the gathering to protest what he sees as unfair restrictions that are sidelining his dreams of furthering his shotput goals.

“It’s slowly starting to crumble. The pandemic is absolutely crushing my dreams of going to the Olympics,” Jorgenson.

Last fall, he was ranked in the top three in Canada for U18 shotput.

“The last time I trained with my coach was close to two months ago and even that was masked. We were keeping it completely safe. I do not see why we can’t keep practising,” he said, adding without training and practices, he won’t get better at his sport.

Many parents at the protest said while they believe that COVID-19 is “real,” the provincial government should be focused on the lower transmission rates in youth and restrictions’ effect on kids mental health when determining what restrictions should be in place.

“My son is also a hockey player and I’ve just seen firsthand how this just doesn’t make sense to keep our kids back when the infection rate in kids is lower. I do see what it’s doing to kids. The lack of socializing and just getting outside of their own home is affecting them,” said Tammy Phillips.

Protest co-organizer Dallas said she wanted to open MLA Cooper’s eyes to the effect restrictions are having on kids and that there is support to open things up again. She wants him to pass the message onto Premier Jason Kenny.

“I’m advocating to open the whole province up. First and foremost of course is sports for the kids. I’m advocating to open up the restaurants. I’m advocating for all small businesses – they need to live, they need to work they need to pay their bills, they need to feed their kids. Jason Kenney is getting a paycheck. A lot of people aren’t. So that’s what I want. People need to start speaking up, they need start speaking up for themselves and start demanding to have their life back,” said Dallas.

Municipal enforcement reported one complaint resulted from the protest but was "immediately rescinded as the business owner wanted to allow them to continue."