Curtis Michaluk doesn’t expect a shift to a varsity program system will create huge changes in high school sports in Thunder Bay.
A well-used system in other provinces, the idea behind the move is to allow athletes, regardless of age, to compete with similarly skilled players.
The change, which will only affect basketball, volleyball and soccer, eliminates the junior and senior programs in those sports. In previous years students in Grades 11 and 12 played against each other, while students in grades nine and 10 were in a league of their own.
In the new system, the best athletes will comprise the varsity team, with other players relegated to the junior varsity squad.
Michaluk, the coach of the Westgate Tigers varsity boys volleyball team, said there’s always been wiggle room when younger elite athletes have been involved.
“I don’t think it changes our system as much as people might thing,” he said, noting just two Grade 10 students tried out for his team this semester, one of whom quickly departed for a shot at the junior football Tigers, where the old system remains in place.
“In the past if we had a great athlete who was in Grade 10, or possibly in Grade 9, if they could play at a senior level, then between coaches we would have that player play up. It gives me an opportunity to allow our junior athletes to play at the senior level maybe a few more times to just get that experience.”
As a coach, Michaluk says it also presents him more options when picking his team.
The move could also benefit older students who want to continue playing high school sports, but don’t make the final senior team cut.
By including a junior varsity squad, one without an age restriction, it gives high school juniors and seniors a second chance to play, said Superior Secondary School Athletics Association director Dave Pineau.
It’s a one-year trial at this stage, Pineau added, noting football wasn’t chosen for specific reasons.
First and foremost he wants to prove the system works to parents and coaches.
There were just too many question marks to include football in the mix this time around, Pineau said.
“We talked about football. But I think there was some apprehension in terms of jumping right in. We wanted to show the football community that it is a safe model. We thought piloting with these sports would make it an easy sell in the future,” Pineau said.
Size matters, in other words.
“I think because it’s a high-risk sport there’s some concern that you might see a Grade 10 (student) pulled up who wasn’t physically ready. I think those concerns are concerns that should be conversations between coaching staffs about where students fit best,” Pineau said.
“I think seeing it work in these sports will alleviate those concerns with the football season.”
The system will be reviewed at year’s end.
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