Let me get this straight.
Basketball players with the Northstar Preparatory Institute couldn’t work out in their home base of Winnipeg because the province of Manitoba had banned organized sports activities in early November as part of a code-red pandemic lockdown.
So the Institute, whose program is led by Daron Leonard with Sault native Jeff Giovanatti in an associate role, moved its players, who are mainly of high school age, to the Sault for two weeks of training at the Sault Activities Centre, previously known as The Tech, in December.
All was above board, we are told, the players being tested for COVID-19 upon arrival with no positive tests, following all safety protocols and being housed on one floor of the Windsor Park Place. They apparently saw no one but each other and their coaches.
The Institute also had the OK of Algoma Public Health.
Having said all that, I have to ask: “Whatever happened to the calls from pretty well every province for people to stop travelling?”
Ignoring that call just cost Rod Philips his job as Ontario finance minister.
Philips took a trip to the Caribbean while the province remained under lockdown. Called back by Premier Doug Ford, he apologized and called the travel a “dumb mistake”, which indeed it was.
Ford announced Philips’s resignation (firing) shortly after his return.
Yet our city can play host to visiting basketball players from Manitoba.
“APH did conduct a risk assessment and consultation with local organizers in late November and the event did not contravene any provincial regulations at the time,” Dr. Marlene Spruyt, Algoma public Health medical officer of health, told the Sault Star, “Public health guidance was provided.”
But Spruyt clarified her group’s position by noting how Algoma Public Health “cannot prevent an event from operating if they are in compliance with regulations and recommendations set by the province. It does not mean we support or endorse specific gatherings or events.”
I realize that APH couldn’t really do anything officially to block the trip by the Winnipeg group but I think it could have at least pointed out publicly that it was going to occur and that although it may be within the rules legally it really wasn’t morally.
After all, we are in the midst of a pandemic.
And although in hindsight it appears nothing occurred in the way of spreading the Covid-19 virus, the optics, with people being asked not to travel, were nevertheless bad.
It was even suggested in Winnipeg that Northstar not take the players out of the province.
According to Taylor Allen, a reporter with The Winnipeg Free Press, Northstar had originally proposed going to Calgary to play several games but that fell through when Alberta imposed its lockdown.
Leonard, who also offers a circuit program for high-level players who want to train and do some travelling with Northstar, then turned his attention to Sault Ste. Marie.
Taylor reported that prior to the Alberta trip falling through, one of the circuit program players sought the advice of his high school coach on whether he should go to Calgary. The coach had already caught wind of Leonard’s plan and informed Basketball Manitoba.
Northstar is an independent program and not affiliated with Basketball Manitoba, but its executive director, Adam Wedlake, emailed Leonard on Nov. 9 advising him to not take the team on a trip.
“We’re doing our part to ensure the health of Manitobans remains a top priority and basketball will come back at one point in a safe manner,” Wedlake told Taylor in a phone interview.
“Our advice to anybody out there involved with basketball, be it a member, or a non-member like the Northstar Prep program, is that they should follow the guidance (of health officials) in the spirit of what we’re all trying to achieve here as a society.”
Wedlake emailed Leonard again on Dec. 3, advising against the Sault Ste. Marie trip.
Taylor said a source told him that when the Calgary trip didn’t work out, players’ families were informed a trip in December was in the works, but Leonard wouldn’t say where they were heading or when they’d be leaving, to avoid word getting out.
A week before the team left for Ontario, the circuit program player who went to his high school coach for advice about the Calgary trip was informed by Leonard that he was no longer in the program. The player had played club basketball for Leonard for three years. Two of his friends were also kicked off the team.
“He assumed (my son) had spoken about (the Calgary trip) and couldn’t trust him, so they were kicked off the team,” said the parent of the boy who had approached his coach for advice..
“Right there, to me, if you’re expecting kids to keep quiet, you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing.”
Giovanatti told The Sault Star, “We’ve done nothing wrong. Our first step was to reach out to Algoma Public Health and develop a plan. We then presented it to them and we exceeded their guidelines.”
Event coordinator Jim Shook, who’s also from the Sault, concurred.
They may be right in a legal sense but not, as I said earlier, in a moral sense.
We are in a pandemic with those involved in government and healthcare asking us all to only travel if it is essential.
This trip in no way could be termed essential.
And that is the word the Northstar Preparatory Institute should have received from Algoma Public Health.
It may not have had the power to stop the trip but it at least should have tried to discourage it.