By Darryl G. Smart
It’s pretty safe to say, regardless of the weather, it’s going to be a very long fall and winter for thousands of people who ordinarily use ice rinks in Norfolk County.
Usually around this time of year, Simcoe’s Rick Cosco is rounding up his list of players for his Monday evening shinny, to let them know that it’s game on in early October. That’s when the group of players, in their 50s, 60s and 70s hit the ice for their usual 10pm time slot, which is always followed by a gathering at a local watering hole.
But not this year.
“It’s baffling and such a disappointment,” Cosco said.
He along with every user group organizer across the county received notification that they will not have ice this fall/winter season.
“Thank you all for your patience with us as we work to reopen facilities in Norfolk County. This year has been a very unprecedented and unpredictable time for all of us and we regret to inform you that we will not be opening up ice slots for adult recreational hockey leagues or any other private users/businesses for the upcoming Fall 2020 Winter 2021 season,” an email from Todd Shoemaker, Norfolk County’s director, Parks and Recreation Parks and Recreation Community and Emergency Services Division reads. “Due to Covid-19, pickup hockey will not be allowed and only provincially recognized sport organizations will be allowed to rent ice for minor hockey and figure skating. These organizations will be expected to follow very strict protocols, including no dressing rooms, Covid pre-screenings, and coming to the arena fully dressed.”
The email blindsided Norfolk’s elected council. Smart Sports Podcast contacted Coun. Kim Huffman and Coun. Amy Martin, both saying that the first time they heard about this was Tuesday when constitutes began to bombard them with questions.
“Council was not made aware in advance of today communications sent out to user groups that men’s hockey league would not be permitted to play,” Coun. Martin said. “I’m being told that this is attached to the provincial restrictions of phase three despite other municipalities reportedly permitting players on the ice.”
Brantford, Brant County, and Oxford County have already informed its users that the green light is on for recreational hockey, with strict safety restrictions of course.
The email cites that staffing is the reason for the decision.
“Especially important are the increased breaks required between ice times to allow for cleaning and strategic entry and exits to minimize contact with other users,” the email reads. “Increased staffing will be required to do cleaning and ensure that arenas are safe for our youth. As such, we will not have enough ice times or staff to operate once minor sports have been accommodated.”
Coun. Huffman has encouraged Norfolk citizens to contact her and the other councillors, so they can arm themselves when council meets again.
TIMING A MYSTERY
This news comes at a very pivotal time for the fate of Norfolk’s arena situation.
During last week’s special meeting at Governor Simcoe Square, council voted 7-2 in favour of its original plan to close the Simcoe Recreation Centre ice and move the Simcoe Senior’s Centre to that location. This, despite numbers provided by Simcoe Minor Hockey and the newly formed Norfolk Minor Hockey that would indicate a shortage of ice if the Rec Centre ice pad were to close.
Those numbers are included in a previous Smart Sports Network story from July 6.
Contrary to the numbers provided, Norfolk CAO Jason Burgess claimed that the six Norfolk arenas were under-utilized.
A week later, without council’s knowing, nobody but minor hockey and figure skating will use the ice this season.
“After several hours of debate over the last month concerning arenas, user groups and utilization, council was not informed that Talbot Gardens would not be opening,” Coun. Martin said. “If the county is truly on a quest to increase our utilization to make a sound case to taxpayers and upper levels of government for a new efficient facility, one would think we would be doing everything within our power to keep our users inside our facilities.”