Tri-City Eagles return to play, but not to games

Registration is down 60% for the fall season because of COVID-19

It will be at least January before players in the Tri-City Eagles field hockey club next play a match.

The organization — comprised of about 500 players from ages five to adult — was unable to meet the deadline for submitting teams to the Vancouver Women’s Field Hockey Association (VWFHA) so it’s starting its season with practise. 

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Lots of practise.

Cydney Smythies, the Eagles’ fall women’s co-ordinator, said several challenges set them back. 

Registration is down about 60 per cent, and there were changes to the return to play guidelines midway through the planning process for the new season.

“We rely solely on volunteer time for all the coordination and coaching of our programs,” Smythies said. “It was difficult for a small board to change gears quickly.”

The lower number of registered players also made it challenging to put together teams at every competitive level, Smythies said.

Instead, the Eagles are focussing cautiously on what they can provide with limited resources and the ongoing public health uncertainties.

The organization is concentrating all of its activities, like training and mini-games, at Mobilio Field in Coquitlam’s Town Centre Park, where players and coaches must follow strict entry and exit procedures, as well as where they can store their equipment.

Smythies said “skills and drills” sessions on Wednesday evenings will help keep players sharp in a comfortable, socially distant environment, with the pitch divided into three distinct areas and no more than 10 or 11 players plus a coach in each zone. 

As well, designated safety officers will keep an eye out that all procedures are being followed.

Thursdays will offer players who want a taste of competition a chance to play mini games within their cohort.

Smythies said the Eagles surveyed its members to determine their desires and comfort levels about the fall season.

But there’s no doubt something is being lost.

“As always, working on personal skills is a benefit but field hockey is a team sport,” she said. “A team needs to be able to work as a unit on the field.”

The precautions have reverberated through the VWFHA as almost half the teams in the league that stretches from West Vancouver to Chilliwack opted out of cohort play this fall.

Smythies said the lack of a competitive fall season is difficult, especially after spring play had to be cancelled last March at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

And with infection numbers on the rise again, the Eagles are taking steps to mitigate the uncertainty of the coming months.

Those include providing the training and mini-game sessions in four-week increments followed by two-week breaks so participants can reassess their comfort level as the season progresses and the organization can limit its financial exposure on costs like booking fields, should more restrictive public health regulations be reimplemented.

But for the time being, Smythies said, players and coaches are just excited to be back on the pitch.

“We have an incredibly supportive membership,” she said. “Our players want to support the club through thick and thin.”

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