On Thursday morning, the Manitoba AAA U-18 Hockey League published the following letter from league commissioner Levi Taylor, addressed to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, Dr. Brent Roussin and Honourable Heather Stefanson on the subject of COVID-19 restrictions and their implications on the physical and mental health/well-being of its league members.
The Manitoba AAA U-18 Hockey League is the provincial AAA league for high school-aged players, with 13 teams situated from Norman to Kenora to Brandon. The league’s Board of Directors had previously created a task force to ensure all safety measures and protocol were put in place and followed to see a successful 2020-21 through.
The league created a modified 36-game regular season schedule, which began on October 16. Teams participated in league play until their respective health regions shut down play. The league was also divided into three divisions, to help limit the spread and contain the virus should it occur.
- West Division: Parkland Rangers, Yellowhead Chiefs, Brandon Wheat Kings, and Southwest Cougars.
- Central Division: Central Plains Capitals, Pembina Valley Hawks, Interlake Lightning, and Eastman Selects
- East Division: Winnipeg Bruins, Winnipeg Thrashers, Winnipeg Wild, and Kenora Thistles.
- As a geographical outlier, Norman’s schedule did differ significantly from other member clubs.
The body of the league’s January 21, 2021 letter to Pallister, Roussin and Stefanson is provided below:
Dear Mr. Pallister, Ms. Stefanson, and Dr. Roussin, The Hockey Comrnunity is concerned about the mental, physical, and social health of the citizens of this province. We are particularly concerned about the wellbeing of children and youth in Manitoba.
Physical activity and social interaction contribute to the health of individuals and are essential for healthy growth and development of children and youth. Physical activity helps prevent and reduce the effects of depression, stress, and anxiety. It increases energy levels, helps maintain a healthy body, and improves sleep quality. Social interaction contributes to the development of interpersonal skills, relationships, and emotional capacity.
In contrast, the continued prohibition of social interaction and limitation of permitted physical activities has caused immeasurable harm to the children of this province. They are socially isolated, increasingly depressed, and at greater risk of physical and emotional abuse. A recent survey by Hockey Canada found that 45 percent of parents are concerned about the mental health of their children.
Organized sport plays an important role in coordinating and facilitating physical activity and social interaction for children and youth. Since mid-November, however, restrictions have been in place that prohibit organized sport. Recreation facilities, gyms, and fitness centers have all been closed.
The Manitoba U18 AAA Hockey League calls on you to reopen recreation facilities, gyms, and fitness centers for use by children and youth. It can be done safety, and it must be done now to curtail the harms inflicted.
In the Fall, the Hockey Community, under the direction and leadership of Hockey Manitoba, developed comprehensive plans to safely start our season. Across the province, facilities, associations, leagues, and teams all implemented protocols to mitigate risk. We made the use of Manitoba’s COVID screening tool compulsory for all participants before every on and off-ice activity, contract tracing was added, mask use was made mandatory, arrival and departure time for participants and spectators was limited, social distancing was enforced, dressing rooms were sanitized frequently, travel was reduced, bus capacities were limited, spectators were limited and then prohibited, off-ice warm ups were restricted, and handshakes were eliminated.
From the top down, the Hockey Community worked together to provide a safe environment for our children to participate in physical activity, continue in their social development, and ensure their mental health needs were met.
At the U-18 level, we did not have a single positive case. As a whole, the number of positive cases in minor hockey was limited. These events did not contribute to outbreaks and they were not super-spreaders.
We are committed to implementing the same protocols, to prohibiting spectators, and to ensuring the safety of our communities and members. We are asking you to work with us to immediately reopen facilities for children and youth, and to permit them to participate in organized sport. The mental and physical health of our children requires your immediate action.
Manitoba U18 AAA Hockey League
Pe: Levi A. Taylor, J.D. Commissioner