Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles on the affiliate members of the National Federation of State High School Associations. Affiliate members have the right to participate in meetings and activities but without voting privileges or eligibility for elected or appointed offices or assignments.
The foundation of the Alberta Schools’ Athletic Association (ASAA) was laid on March 17, 1956, in Calgary, Alberta, at a time when officials met with an interest in developing a provincial championship in high school boys basketball. Soon after the boys basketball championship was developed, girls found footing with competition at the provincial level coming in 1960. By 1966, boys and girls basketball teams were competing in A, B and C divisions.
Since its initial 1956 meeting, the ASAA has added 11 additional sports for the 382 schools that form its membership. ASAA Executive Director John Paton’s membership ranges from small rural schools consisting of a minimum of five students to 2,600 students in its large urban areas. Depending on location, a team may have to travel anywhere from 16 to 18 hours to reach a championship site.
The ASAA’s school year starts at the beginning of September and continues until late June, with championships running through the start of June. One of the unique challenges for the ASAA is scheduling related to weather. The impact of snow and rain causes schools to make the most of the spring months, and sports such as rugby may conclude with only a month-long playing season.
“Some of our seasons end up being very short,” Paton said. “It’s not uncommon – depending on the availability of facilities – for a three- to four-week rugby season if we have a late snow melt and a bunch of rain. With our championships being in June, some of our teams can’t get on the practice field until May.”
Rugby in Alberta has 140 teams fielding more than 4,500 total participants. By a narrow margin, more girls participate in the sport than boys. The most popular sport for the association is track and field, which features more than 7,500 student-athletes. The most popular sport for boys is football with 4,400 participating, while volleyball’s 3,600-plus girls make it the most popular at the high school level.
Paton noted that volleyball is just as popular for boys as it is for girls in Alberta and other parts of Canada. As of its most recent survey, more than 2,800 boys participate in volleyball.
“I know there are some states that don’t even have boys volleyball,” Paton said. “Here, it’s always been as big since boys and girls volleyball were introduced in 1964. Ever since then it’s been fairly equal growth all the way through.”
Unlike in the United States, those who coach in Canada do so on a volunteer basis. Additionally, Paton said for the most part, “there’s no such thing as a full-time paid athletic administrator” in Alberta. While in some rare instances athletic administrators may receive a stipend, there’s no stipends available at the coach’s level.
“There just isn’t money available to do it,” Paton said. “School boards, unlike some places in the U.S., don’t allocate a certain percentage of their annual budget to go toward student activities and athletics. All those funds come from the school level because we’re doing school-based budgeting. The school budgets include some costs for athletics and they vary from one school to another and almost always include user fees for students.”
The ASAA’s primary means of funding comes from the Alberta Sport Connection (lottery funds) through the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, membership fees, fundraising and corporate assistance. These areas of funding aid the association with officiating costs, meetings, publications, and staff salaries and benefits, among other items. In total, Paton said government funding makes up approximately 25 percent of the ASAA’s budget.
“In a lot of ways, we’re very similar to the state associations in our governance structure,” Paton said. “In many other ways, we have different capacities depending on the province and the capacity f the organization to bring in revenue. A lot of what we do depends on having the revenue to do it.”
Cody Porter is a graphic arts/communications assistant in the NFHS Publications/Communications Department.