Spears carry on despite pandemic
If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, Niagara Spears football teams would be moving their training outdoors to Kiwanis Field and ramping up for the start of Ontario Provincial Football League play in May.
Unfortunately, the stubbornness of the pandemic means for the second straight spring, football is not a go.
Spears players will have to make do with a skills and drills camp running April 6 to June 8 at Kiwanis Field. Sessions run from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursday and as of March 31, only a few of the 50 available spots remain.
Visit https://www.niagaraspears.ca to register for the camps. Bantam and first-year junior varsity players will be grouped in one session and second-year junior varsity and varsity players will make up the second group.
“Basically all we can offer right now is some training camps,” Spears president Rick Tofano said.
The last time Tofano was involved in talks with the OPFL was about a month ago.
“Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of the government and all of their COVID protocols,” he said. “Because of the close contact and the sustained contact you have with football, we don’t fall into the same categories like hockey, soccer or baseball for running some sort of program with minor contact.”
There is no drop dead date for when the OPFL will cancel the season for the second straight year, but Tofano is not holding out a lot of hope.
“We are probably thinking that by the time we actually see full-contact football again, it won’t likely be until spring of next year,” he said. “It’s very disappointing and our coaches have been trying to stay in touch with the players and keeping them updated on the different things that we are doing.
“We are trying to keep the kids involved as best we can, but unfortunately it has been a rough couple of years.”
The Spears’s coaches are doing as much as they can to help the players get through the pandemic.
“They are their to help them and talk to them at any level possible whether it’s some physical training online or even just to help out with mental health,” Tofano said.
If Niagara remains in the red category, provincial guidelines allow for no-contact training among small groups and in-person weight training if the equipment is disinfected between uses.
If Niagara returns to the grey zone, all the training is virtual and online.
If vaccines help bring the infection numbers down and Niagara finds itself in a orange, yellow or green zone, clubs can offer flag football with a competitive bubble of 50 players acting as their own league and skills and drills training can be held at an increased capacity.
Like all minor sports organizations, the Spears must continue to pay attention to its bottom line.
“We do have expenses and that is why we have been doing a little bit of fundraising and stuff like that to keep the organization going and available for the kids,” Tofano said.
The latest fundraiser is being run in conjunction with Big Red Meat Markets and details can be found on the Spears’ website. The deadline for orders with payment is April 6.