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Dec. 6, 2021 | Monday
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Shortened soccer season closes with fun games
Spencer Collins moves the ball upfield during the NOTL Soccer Club’s seaonal finale on Saturday. The club’s season was shortened due to COVID but players enjoyed their time on the pitch. (Richard Harley)

The NOTL Soccer Club wrapped up its season with a series of scrimmages on Saturday.

Players from all leagues filled Centennial Sports Park in Virgil for the final games.

The season was a short one after COVID-19 regulations delaying the start until June 21. Normally, the season would kick off in May.

Sharon Velsink, a Virgil mother whose 11-year-old son Dean was playing goalie for the U11/U12 division, said although it’s been a short season, it was good for the kids to be back on the pitch.

“It’s amazing. The kids have loved it,” she said.

“They really missed it. The first practice and games, they were just so pumped about it, and so happy — a little bit shy at first to get to know each other again. But they've loved it. And we've had an amazing summer. I don't think we got rained out at all this year.”

She said the kids and coaches have made the best out of the season.

Though there wasn’t a tournament this year, the division played rock paper scissors to pick teams, one team wearing jerseys and another wearing pinnies.

“It's all just Niagara-on-the-Lake teams, kind of mixing up and playing scrimmages just for fun, just as a nice end to the season.”

Typically tournaments start on the May 24 weekend, but they were put on hold this year.

Velsink said she’s extremely thankful to the coaches for making the season happen.

"A super great thank you to all the coaches," she said. "They're volunteers. They all give up their evenings and weekends and give 110 per cent of their time and effort, and they're so encouraging. They're amazing.”

Ted VanderKaay, president of the NOTL Soccer Club, said it was sort of a whirlwind getting the season started, with plenty of confusion over the colour-designated phases of COVID reopening, which then switched to numbered steps.

"We were given very little guidance from the government when we changed to the stage one, two and three of how sports were to be integrated into the community," he said.

"Under the colour-coded systems, we had a pretty good idea of what we were supposed to do and we based our entire program according to that, so, long story short, (we) kind of didn't know where to go when the government pulled the rug out from us."

The club ended up with an "improvised season," where players drew numbers within their league and would create new teams for each scrimmage.

"We had a pretty lengthy and successful season. And even though the programming was different than what kids and families were used to, by all accounts, all parents and all kids were really happy with the way it went."

For the club, it was important to salvage a season and get up and running as quickly as possible. VanderKaay said he's pretty sure they were the first club to get on the fields and one of the latest to wrap up the season.

"Kids having been cooped up for months and months and months, not having played organized sports really through the winter or having attended school with all the social distancing and staying at home and everything," he said.

"For mental reasons and physical reasons kids just needed to get out and parents needed out too. Everyone was really excited just to get the kids out and see them have fun and really. It was amazing. The first day we saw them out, like you could just see the smiling faces on the kids."

He said the impact of being able to play was significant on his own children, too.

"They were really looking forward to it just because they had been locked up, they had been distanced from all their friends. They lacked that social interaction," VanderKaay said.

There wasn't a drastic drop in the number of players who signed up. About 350 kids registered for the season, when normally it's about 375 to 400, he said.

"The club is really looking forward to next year when we feel, and we hope, that we'll go back to a normal season, that will start at the normal time and then we'll go back to normal types of configurations, back to standardized teams, all the things that we've known."

"We expect that there may be some changes, as the world has changed, but that there will be less confusion next year and that we'll have a stronger start out of the gate because everyone will know kind of what we're going to expect," he said.

"We look forward to a much better year next year."

It's too early to know whether the soccer league, which has kids from ages 4 to 17, will require vaccinations for players 12 and up next season. However, he said it's something the board will likely discuss.

"That's going to be a lengthy discussion that'll go throughout the offseason, because really we don't know how things will play out,"

"We're typically guided by Ontario Soccer and what they recommend based on their consultation with the provincial government."

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