Madison Shanks dreams of getting a scholarship to play volleyball at a Canadian university.
The 17-year-old’s athletic prowess has helped her Kelowna high school team win the BC School Sports 4A Girls’ Provincial Championship for the past two years. This season, the team was hoping for a hat trick, and Shanks was hoping for a big break.
Madison is one of some 6,500 student-athletes across the country vying for track and field scholarships to take their sport to the next level next fall. But, like many others, she is now wondering if the pandemic will jeopardize her chances.
Many college sports recruiters normally watch high school tournaments this time of year and make scholarship offers at their top picks. But with games and practices canceled in some locations due to the pandemic, which has led to more than 280,000 cases of COVID-19 in Canada, the process has been turned upside down.
“Recruiting is so essential in your senior year,” Madison said. “That’s how they get to look at you – you know – the tournaments, the gameplay, the highlights.”
Kelowna Secondary hosts practices and inter-team games – COVID style, no blocking, a limited number of players, and balls that are sanitized every 20 minutes.
In British Columbia, all high school sports have been restricted to modified practices and no games. Across the country, the rules vary. In New Brunswick, some sports may play games while leagues in parts of Ontario have suspended all activities under recent COVID-19 restrictions.
Normally the Kelowna team would prepare for the provincial championships and play big tournaments right now, with scouts in the stands to watch, coach Kelly Hettinga said. But that’s not happening this year.
“It really limits their chances of connecting with recruiters,” he said.
This is why Hettinga encourages its athletes to be more active in schools.
Vying for attention
Before COVID-19, Madison’s parents, Tara and Jeffrey Shanks, were like paparazzi capturing her every move on video to grab the attention of colleges and universities.
Now they are limited to putting together bands gathered from last year’s games as they are not even allowed to enter the gym to watch practices.
Tara Shanks said it was a stressful time.
And even if students manage to grab a school’s attention, there’s another hurdle: How do you get recruiters to make them an offer? And how do athletes decide on the offer to take when on-campus and in-person meetings with scouts are not allowed due to the pandemic?
WATCH | Madison Shanks says recruiting is essential for grade 12 students:
“If I go to a school, I want to know that I will be supported,” Madison said, stressing that it was important that the team and campus were a good fit for her.
“Missing school visits has been a crucial part for me. And Zoom meetings are one thing, but face-to-face interactions are so different.
The Shanks are trying to keep the situation in perspective.
“We know that COVID has created challenges for everyone,” Tara Shanks said. “We try to take it with a smile…. It’s for everyone’s safety.
In search of future stars
Doug Reimer led the UBC women’s volleyball team to eight national championships in his 25 years coaching them.
During that time, the Vancouver coach has never offered a scholarship to someone he hasn’t met in person.
This year, he said UBC could offer up to five volleyball scholarships. He fears that it will be difficult to pick the best players or spot “rough diamonds” without seeing the athletes playing in person.
On the flip side, with college-level game cancellations, Reimer said he has a bit more time to get involved in the recruiting process and get to know potential candidates.
WATCH | Coach Doug Reimer says it’s hard to spot diamonds in the rough:
Once students are recruited, next year will bring additional challenges. Due to the cancellation of the 2020 season, athletes who missed this year will be eligible to play in 2021, which means there will likely be more players on the rosters.
“I think that as coaches we will have to be very agile and show good leadership,” said Reimer.
All of these challenges have led to new ideas. Albertan Dave Wildman, who has coached high school volleyball players for 20 years, hosted four COVID-compliant events in Alberta and British Columbia to bring athletes together for fitness tests, drills and games in order to showcase their talents in these unusual times.
Over 70 post-secondary coaches from across the country watched the activities via a live web feed.
Since then, a number of students have started talking to schools and several have signed offers, Wildman said.
With so much uncertainty, some families have made difficult decisions to seize the opportunities.
Aaron Tung of Port Coquitlam, B.C., and his parents, Denise and Wilson, decided the 17-year-old’s chance to spend his 12th grade playing football at a high school in Florida was too good to be. failure.
In September, he started playing for Clearwater Academy in Florida.
He was recruited after the highlights he posted online caught the attention of high school coaches.
Her parents hesitated because the number of COVID-19 cases in that state had been skyrocketing for months.
But COVID wasn’t their only concern sending their son, who is a person of color, to the United States.
“In fact, we reviewed if you are stopped by the police, what do you do? And we practiced this almost every day before he left,” Denise Tung said.
“And what are you doing? What are you saying? What are you not doing? What are you not saying?”
WATCH | Denise and Wilson Tung to make the most of the opportunities:
The Tungs said the school has strict COVID protocols and Aaron can come home at any time.
So far Aaron is happy to have made the trip.
“[It’s] definitely a step forward from where I was before, ”he said. Meanwhile, some of his friends in BC are frustrated because they only have very limited training.
Some other high school athletes also managed to get noticed.
Ethan Pearson, 18, of Fredericton, NB, recently accepted a hockey scholarship to Princeton University in New Jersey. He is currently a goaltender with the Chilliwack Chiefs, part of the BC Junior A Level Hockey League, which hosts games without supporters.
Last year, nearly half of the league’s 400 or so players got scholarships, mostly to play in the United States.
Pearson said he was fortunate to have visited the Princeton campus before COVID hit, as virtual tours he was limited to with other schools were difficult.
“I didn’t really have that feeling of the campus environment,” Pearson said. “In the end, I was very confident after going to Princeton. It was by far my favorite.”