After close to two years, the Hawks returned to the pitch with spectators at a distance.
By Darren Lum
The Red Hawks are back … and it’s a welcome sight for the community that had everyone smiling on and off the field hockey pitch after close to two years away because of COVD-19 restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.
Despite losing 1-nil to the visiting Holy Cross Hurricanes of Peterborough on Tuesday, Oct. 5 at the Gary G. Brohman Athletic Field in Haliburton, there is hope for a return to life before the pandemic and for success on the pitch.
The team’s coach Steve Smith said the players were excited about participating in extra-curriculars, particularly team sports where they can compete against an opposing school. This was particularly true for the seniors, he added. For many of the first and second year players in this game it was their first high school competition.
The last time the school fielded teams also included disruptions to extracurricular activities related to teacher negotiations with the province. There were 15 teams that school year and that number may not be matched this year because of concerns related to the transmission of COVID-19, less students and fewer coaches available to even have programs to run. Football is not being offered and volleyball is being offered to boys, but only for skill development and will not include league play.
The Hawks field hockey team earned one of two team Kawartha championship titles in 2019. The other was by the boys’ curling team, who went on to win COSSA for their all-provincial berth, but due to COVID-19 restrictions did not have an OFSAA championship to play.
Smith, who has spent much of his career coaching students and fostering a love of sport, said he appreciated being able to coach again.
“For me it is a pleasure to be able to coach again. I love being able to instill a love for a sport to a new generation. Field hockey is a brand new sport for students entering our high school. We have a very young but talented squad. Most of our team consists of Grade 9 and 10 students, who have never played this great, but difficult [to learn], at times, sport. Once they have embraced the quirky rules and the odd shaped stick (only one side can be used) they thoroughly enjoy and love the sport,” he wrote in an email.
The Hawks may have lost this game, but getting to play was the silver lining that everyone recognized and it wasn’t lost on senior student athletes such as field hockey co-captain Bella Smolen. She loved being able to represent the Red Hawks again like she did in 2019 as a Grade 10 student.
Smolen is hopeful the team can improve from the loss and make a run at getting to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championship.
It will be easier with one less round of competition this year without having to win the COSSA (Central Ontario Secondary School Athletics) championship. The COSSA berth was earned by coming in either first or second in Kawartha, but this year winning Kawartha will secure an all-provincials berth, which is something Smolen has never experienced. She is sharing the captaincy duties with Brook Stover and Cassidy McMullen, who all played together in Grade 9 and 10. They’ve looked to the past to be good leaders, thinking of captain Emma Casey, who led the team when they were starting with the program. Smolen adds each of the captains recognize that each of them possess different skills and have allowed each to share their specific skill-set with the younger players.
Along the adjacent asphalt path – the continuation of the Haliburton County Rail Trail – family and supporters of the team watched the game at a distance, which is among the COVID-19 safety measures in place at the school.
Darryl Winder, a volunteer coach of multiple sports teams during the year, enjoyed the opportunity to watch his daughter compete for the Red Hawks.
“It was amazing to see my daughter compete again in sports. It’s been a long time. It is such a joy for kids to compete again. I am looking forward to more competitive sports for my kids in the future. The only depressing part was I wasn’t allowed to be closer. Not being allowed on school property was a downer,” he said, referring to his two sons and daughter and the restrictions.
Smolen said part of her motivation to return to in-class learning at the school was because of the chance to compete for the red and white. The school experience is ideal for her when there is the balance of academics and athletics.
“It just keeps my mind clear and when I don’t want to go home and do homework I can go to field hockey practice instead,” she said.
She added playing this first time was awkward because of how long it’s been since she has played with a team of 10 against an opposing group of 10 players and how no one playing in this game wore a mask, which is in contrast to the common practice of mask wearing in the school.
The return to in-person learning has meant a learning curve for the senior student when it comes to interacting socially with her peers.
“It definitely feels like I’m one step behind in the social aspect of everything. There’s kids on the team, who hung out all last year together and still have that bond and I don’t know half the team because they’re two or three years younger than me,” she said.
While some things are returning to what they used to be, there was also a reminder that we’re far from pre-pandemic life, as the autumn pep rally was cancelled, leaving Smolen disappointed.
The rally typically precedes the Red Hawks first team game when the entire school would come together in the school gym to see the introduction of players and to cheer on the teams, including members of the different Red Hawks sports teams who would wear their jerseys for the day.
The field hockey program has only the one team and includes 27 rostered athletes this autumn.
Smith said the team’s coaches focused on getting all the players some playing time and having them represent the school in the home opener.
The Hawks started strongly, controlling play in the Hurricanes end for much of the first half, earning at least a dozen short corners. However, they didn’t capitalize and did not score. By the second half the Hurricanes regrouped and had sequences when they controlled possession, flipping the Hawks narrative to their advantage and found the back of the net for the go-ahead and eventual game-winner.
Coach Smith believed his team carried the play for most of the game outside of the scoring chances created by the Hurricanes.
“The difference between the first half and the second half was the coaching. I may have made a few changes at inopportune times which left our team short handed for a few seconds. In field hockey a few seconds can be the turning point for the game,” he wrote in an email.
Despite the result, the team is happy about its potential for success.
“The coaches are proud of our team for their first game in a long time. From our goalie, defence, mids and forwards we are extremely excited about the potential of what they can accomplish this year and the years to come. If we can stay healthy and keep everyone safe this year it will be a start to a very successful year of extracurricular sporting events at HHSS,” he wrote in a message.