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JAWS sports teams hope to grow from crop of COVID 'comeback' athletes

LAC LA BICHE - It’s been an impressive year back to competition for young athletes at J. A. Williams High School (JAWS) after a two year COVID break, says Andrew Przybylski, the school’s athletics director. 

“Out of the pandemic and being back to normal, we have five volleyball teams, four basketball teams, badminton teams and more people than I’ve ever seen compete at a zone or provincial competition,” he said last week as Grade 9 students were returning with ribbons from the recent Lakeland Schools Athletic Association Districts in Bonnyville.  

Currently, the senior outdoor track and field season is wrapping up, with youth across the Lakeland competing at the Northeast Alberta Schools’ Athletic Associations (NEASAA) provincials over the weekend in Medicine Hat. Three students from JAWS will be competing in five events at the provincial senior high competition. 

It was a big year for participation and success for the community while considering all the challenges students and their families have had over the years, said Przybylski, 

“Usually what you see in small towns after a recession or even a crisis like the pandemic, you get a reduction in number from kids playing. Ours—from what I can tell— went up. That's a huge positive.” 

Badminton wins 

An example of the increased turnout of student athletes was the recent high school badminton season. Junior and senior high school students filled the courts this year, with one mixed-doubles team going all the way to the championship game of the provincial finals, and a boys' team from the school coming home with a bronze in the provincial consolations.  The Alberta Schools Athletics Association (ASAA) Badminton Provincials were held in Medicine Hat on May 6 and 7 with 12 JAWS athletes competing. 

“It was above our expectations. Normally when we go to badminton provincials we send one, two or three. This year we sent 12, it was unbelievable. They all did well,” he said, attributing the group's success to hard work and dedication during the bounce-back season.

“They came to practice three days a week, they worked on their serves which is very important in badminton. At provincials, I was impressed with how well they did because a lot of the time when you go to provincials there is stiff competition with athletes who are involved in year-round clubs and compete at a high level, he added. 

Silver medals 

Grade 11 student Aloe Manalese was a part of the silver-medal winning mixed team. She and partner Ben Hortaleza said getting to the gold-medal game wasn’t expected, but they took each game one at a time during the two-day tournament, getting more and more confident.  

“It was of a surprise because we didn’t think we would make it that far. But as soon as we knew that we were going to make it to the finals we were motivated,” she said. “My teammate and I have really good chemistry playing together and we know each other very well; that definitely helped.” 

Manalese said the silver provincial medal came as another surprise since she hadn’t played the sport in several years before she came back to it after the COVID sports break. She credits hard work, patience, teamwork and coaching. 

Ultimately, it was a unique experience that required hard work and patience, along with training and support from coaching staff, she said. 

“I haven’t played badminton in a long time. Mr. Przybylski was really helpful in teaching me tips and tricks along the way.” 

Ending on a high note 

As the school sport season winds down this year, Przybylski hopes many of the JAWS athletes will return to build on their skills and perform. 

“I’m definitely encouraged for next season, especially with our new Grade 9s next year,” he said, hoping that the success of the comeback year draws more players. “I hope they see how these kids practice and hopefully they will build the badminton program and other sports at JAWS for the years to come.” 


About the Author: Rahma Dalmar

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