Paul Matheson says the Mariposa School of Skating and Ontarians have done their part, now it’s time the provincial government follow through with theirs and open things up.
“We’ve been given these goalposts as sort of a finish line to wait for and we’ve been patient and done everything we’re supposed to do to this point, and yet, somehow, our athletes still get pushed to the back of the line,” said Matheson, a co-owner along with David Islam of the internationally renowned skating school.
COVID-19 cases, over 5,000 a day three months ago in Ontario, were down to 254 on Wednesday, including just one positive case in Barrie.
Vaccination rates are surging, with over 13 million doses administered. Ontario has already met the vaccination thresholds required to enter the third and final step of the reopening weeks ahead of schedule.
A final stage Premier Doug Ford said the province could enter if they had over 70 per cent of the adult people vaccinated with a single dose and a quarter of the adult population with two doses.
As of Wednesday night, over 75 per cent of Ontario residents 12 and older have been administered one shot, while 25.9 per cent are fully vaccinated.
“We’re 15, 16 months into this and to me following the science is we’ve had no cases,” Matheson said. “If it is about the science, then we’ve proven science works and to me, at this stage of it, our kids should be back on the ice. To have them not on the ice is the opposite of scientific.”
The skating club recently released a statement expressing its deep disappointment and discouragement over its athletes continuing to be “categorized as participants in a ‘high risk’ activity, particularly when the evidence has shown precisely the opposite.”
“We just felt we had to be a little more vocal and try to represent our skaters and families that want their kids back doing what they love to do,” Matheson said.
This is why they are calling on the Ontario government to reconsider its current reopening plan and instead provide a swift and safe return to the ice for their athletes.
“It’s hard to answer questions to parents and our skaters when they’re asking why aren’t we on the ice,” said Matheson, who is also a professional skating development coach for the Barrie Colts, Barrie AAA Zone, and Barrie Sharks. “We go and do our research and there have been no cases attributed to any skating club in Ontario.
“We kind of just started with the premise of we haven’t had any cases at our rink. We’ve run over 3,000 sessions since this started and did everything by the book and everybody’s healthy.”
Matheson said they have checked with Skate Ontario and had it confirmed that it’s not just them, that it’s province-wide. “There’s been no cases anywhere in any skating club,” he said. “Then it really starts to be frustrating for everybody involved as to why we’re the first ones to be told that you can’t be on the ice and the last ones to get back on the ice.”
While Ontario Premier Doug Ford has targeted July 2 as a date they would move into Stage Two, Matheson said there’s no guarantee that date is even our threshold. He adds he has been told that Stage Three likely won’t even come until August.
Meanwhile, places like British Columbia have had a different approach where all of their youth sports under the age of 18 never stopped.
“Those kids they kept doing whatever sport it was, whether it be gymnastics or figure skating or hockey or whatever, they never stopped,” he said. “They proved you can do it safely too, so it’s not like we’re doing something radically different here where we want to keep going and everybody else stopped, you know?
“We’re actually the opposite. We’re the only ones that aren’t back on the ice.”
Matheson admits it’s been hard for him and Islam to hear the calls from parents with kids struggling, the case in so many sports now. Stories of kids diagnosed with depression because “their world has been turned upside down.”
“We’ve got some other kids who have just lost the structure to their days and haven’t been able to see their friends at the rink,” Matheson said. “For some people they just discount that and for others you see how important it is to these kids. This is what they’ve trained to do for so long and they’ve had the rug pulled out.”
There’s all kinds of ramifications to do with that that are severely discounted, Matheson said.
“As a kid, everything is amplified,” he added. “Everything seems so much more important at the time as a kid. So you can imagine, multiply that by missing a year of training and not being around your friends, and losing out on graduations or whatever.
“The sky would be falling if something went wrong at school in a day for a kid, let alone this. It’s hard to walk a day in their shoes as it is to appreciate what they’ve been going through.”
Matheson isn’t looking for the province to just throw the doors wide open. In Mariposa’s case, they operate in public facilities at the Allandale Recreation Centre and have to work hand-in-hand with the City of Barrie and do everything “by the book.”
“The City has been great and they want us back on the ice too, because they know we’re safe,” Matheson said. “They’re comfortable with how we run things. It’s our motivation to make sure we stay safe and we’ve proven we can do it. All the way through, that was one of our motivations too.
“We want to have that higher standard of safety, so hopefully we get the benefit down the road, and instead we’re getting the opposite, we’re getting pushed farther down the road.”
Most of the skaters, who are age-qualified, have had at least been vaccinated once, while all coaches have been vaccinated once and most fully vaccinated.
“We’re still motivated to do this right,” Matheson said. “Tell us what rules we’ve got to follow and we’ll follow them. We’ve already proven we can be safe, just needs to be the rules we did last year.”
Matheson said the local skating club has also been trying to meet with local MPs, but have yet to hear back.
“We know we’ve lost a lot of skaters, because why would you commit to skate in Ontario at this point with it being such a big question mark when they can go anywhere else in North America and they’re on the ice,” he said.
“It’s going to be difficult coming back, but it’s going to be for all our skaters who are here.”
There’s no reason, Matheson says, why they and other sports organizations can’t safely return and allow the kids to do what they love to do.
“To be honest, it’s not just us,” he said. “There’s other sports and gymnasiums that are in the same situation as us. Hopefully, they can figure it out.”
images courtesy Mariposa School of Skating