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Increasing Participation is Focus in Newfoundland, Labrador

By Cody Porter on January 07, 2019 hst Print

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series of articles on the affiliate members of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). Affiliate members have the right to participate in meetings and activities but without voting privileges or eligibility for elected or appointed offices or assignments.

About School Sports Newfoundland and Labrador

Home to more than 500,000 people, Newfoundland and Labrador comprise Canada’s most easterly province. While much of the globe follows the whole number of hours of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), Newfoundland is one of a few provinces that is offset by 30 minutes. When those operating in Eastern Standard Time (EST) are off to lunch at noon, individuals such as executive director Karen Richard and her staff at School Sports Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) in St. John’s, Newfoundland, are watching as the clock rolls over to 1:30 p.m.

Formerly the Newfoundland Labrador High School Athletic Federation, School Sports NL was founded in 1969 through the Department of Provincial Affairs. Graham Snow, director of the Physical Fitness Division, recognized that a provincial organization was needed to manage Newfoundland and Labrador interscholastic athletics.

“For most of our 50-year history, we were very similar to most other provinces in that we were primarily serving varsity programs in a variety of different sports,” Richard said. “We still do, but about 13 years ago we set up a whole new stream called Participation Nation.”

Participation Nation started in 2004 when School Sports NL recognized a void in education-based programs at the junior high level. Through the Participation Nation program, K-12 students are encouraged to get active and develop healthy lifestyles through one of the four following programs: Primary (Play 4 Fun), Elementary (Elementary Achievement), the PN Unplugged after school program and High School (PN High School Spirit).

“These two streams – our varsity and Participation Nation programs – really support each other,” Richard said. “We see Participation Nation as the farm team – a sort of training ground for varsity athletics – that will progress through physical activity and introduction to sport onto the varsity programs.”

Thanks to the two programs, Richard believes physical fitness and participation numbers have improved. Richard said an important issue the organization was trying to tackle was attrition at the junior high level. Numerous students at that level ere either cut from teams or dropped out from sports entirely, she added.

“Participation Nation introduces those students to sports that they may not have been previously introduced to,” Richard said. “Let’s say those students come from a school that specialized in basketball. They could be welcomed into a school with a lot of nontraditional sports. We can cater to whatever a school wants to get involved with.”

While basketball and volleyball are among the most popular sports played by boys and girls under the direction of School Sports NL, slow pitch softball and ball hockey join the nontraditional sports with surprising levels of interest.

Richard said indoor soccer and Ultimate are rising as well but remain what the organization refers to as foundation sports. Although they are growing fast, popularity for the sports is not prevalent throughout the province.

“Foundation sports are those that have not reached a level of popularity throughout the province to warrant a championship,” Richard said. “These are sports that may only be played in two or three regions and have yet to catch on in other areas of the province. It’s more developmental across the board.”

The Support the Stars recognition program is one method being employed by School Sports NL to encourage its schools to adopt more programs.

“It’s based on success, participation and sportsmanship with schools accumulating points throughout the year,” Richard said. “At the end of the school year, schools are awarded either a gold, silver or bronze banner. It’s impossible to get to the gold level if you are specializing in one sport.”

Richard said her organization routinely fields questions from schools at the bronze and silver levels about how to reach the gold level. She said that “motivator” is when you start to see schools adding to the programs that they offer.

School Sports NL boasts about 45 provincial champions each year, according to Richard. For the most popular sports, like basketball, volleyball and hockey, four divisions (1A-4A) host provincial competition. Others, such as indoor soccer, feature only two divisions. Richard said, “It’s all broken down on a population basis.”

Separated by the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland and Labrador are occasionally challenged by their location when it comes time for the latter to host a tournament. Richard said each of the 11 regions and 45 championships operate on a rotation that attempts to give most schools an opportunity to host.

“Geographically, Newfoundland is an island, so weather and distance are an issue when trying to provide those opportunities for our schools,” Richard said. “We have separate provisions in place for when Labrador schools host tournaments. It’s not financially feasible for 10 regional winners to fly to Labrador for a provincial tournament.”

According to Richard, in this scenario a separate tournament is held in Newfoundland. The winner on the island then travels to Labrador to compete against its schools to declare a provincial champion.

“That’s a bit of a unique situation,” Richard said. “We have a travel fund to assist schools with travel to Labrador for provincial tournaments.”