Elks season a go, but competition, events uncertain

When it comes to the 2020-21 Fort St. John Elks Speed Skating Club season, some things will seem very familiar and some will be very different. For the most part, the club expects to be skating weekly as it normally would, but when it comes to hosting the national and provincial events that the club looks forward to and takes pride in, that is all still very much up in the air.. 

The Elks have cancelled its annual summer camp in August, as the Pomeroy Sport Centre won't be open until Sept. 8 at the earliest. All things considered, that's a minor setback for the club, and the Elks expect to have most of its programs underway by the end of September.

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Group 3 skaters — those aged 15 to 18  — will start skating first for the two weeks, giving the Elks staff and management a chance to get used to running practices and ice-times with the new coronavirus protocols, which are still being determined. 

"We're starting with that group because they'll responsible and will follow the rules while we're still getting a handle on how things will look. Then we'll quickly get the Group 2 and 1's up and running," said Elks President Dan Bastiaansen. 

The Masters skaters will start near the end of September, with the adult recreational skaters early in October.

It will definitely be a different season, especially as the Elks haven't had access to the building and will have a lot of catching up to do as soon as the Pomeroy opens for use.

But the day-to-day operation of the club won't change that much. Bastiaansen said he is expecting a similar number of members this season compared to last, and isn't aware of many regulars who won't be returning. However, it's still too early to tell as registration doesn't open until the end of the month. 

Competition up in the air

What might look a little different for the Elks is on the competition side, both in terms of racing and hosting large events.

The club hosts several events a year, including Canada Cup 1, which was scheduled for December, and the B.C. Long Track Provincial Championships.

Speed Skating Canada (SSC) isn't expected to make a decision on whether its national events will take place this season until November 1. That won't be an easy decision to make, as SSC has to follow not only the guidelines put in place by the federal government and the International Skating Union, but also by the different provincial health jurisdictions. 

"Hosting these events is a big thing with our club. We take pride in it, it gives us a bit of an identity in the larger skating community, and we are well known by other skaters for the quality of events we put on," said Bastiaansen. 

Regardless of whether the larger events take place, Bastiaansen is hopeful for regional events, like the annual Elks Short Track Speed Skating Meet. That will depend on the guidelines from the B.C. provincial health officer and Viasport. Currently, under Phase 2 in Viasport's Return to Sport plan, there is no travel permitted for sport at all. If that doesn't change by October, there won't be any inter-club competitions at all. 

"We can still do time trials and have competitions within our club. We'll still be racing, but it's definitely not the same," Bastiaansen said. "Our sport is all about racing, and if you're not really competing and racing, then you're just practicing. There is still value in that, but the racing and competing against others is the driving thing that drives the kids to work hard get better."

For now, all the Elks can do is prepare to start when the Pomeroy opens, and deal with the fallout as other decisions are made throughout the year. Bastiaansen said both the City of Fort St. John and Northern Health have been very supportive and easy to work with, and the Elks will be patient and see what transpires. 

Email sports reporter Dillon Giancola at sports@ahnfsj.ca

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