There is an issue in secondary school sports in Ontario that undermines the reason to have sports in school – equity. Not gender equity – but school size equity.
Secondary schools in Ontario are split into three designations based on their full-time enrolment according to the Ontario Federation of Secondary Athletic Associations. Schools with less than 500 students are Single-A; while schools between 501 to 950 students are Double-A; and schools with over 951 students are Triple-A.
For regional and provincial championships, the designation split works. Where this system falls down is in the regular season, and in attracting/retaining players.
Regular season leagues across the province, including Cornwall and SDG combine all high schools in the area. Here there are 11 high schools across four school boards, six in Cornwall. Of those, there is a 50/50 between Single and Double-A. All rural schools are Single-A. This pattern is similar across the province, outside of Toronto and Northern Ontario.
With the exception of hockey, most rural communities do not benefit from recreational or competitive sports leagues, while urban schools have year-round sports programs outside of school where athletes can develop. Add in that Ontario has four publicly funded school systems that students can choose from, and there are less students in the province than 20 years ago. The need for changes to the system are apparent.
Ask how many players feel good about going to the city to lose against the large schools? Calling it a ‘learning experience’ or ‘learning through adversity’ is a good way of spinning getting dumped on by a team from the city.
According to OFSAA own mission statement, sport in school is to “enrich education and foster personal development.” Two of their core values are equity and respect. This mixture of different schools at different levels into one league does the opposite. Retaining old geographic boundaries for leagues amplifies the disadvantages that smaller schools have.
A solution would be to dissolve geographic boundaries, grouping schools based on their designation – putting like with like. This may require more travel for some schools, but all would benefit having a more level field of competition.
Another solution is change the designation numbers for each class of school. By lowering numbers, it would take into account the large number of rural and small schools, province-wide decreased enrolment, and school choice.
Combining both solutions would go far in addressing the equity imbalance that exists now.
The benefits of sport in school are clear: teamwork, communication, confidence, working to a goal, just to name a few. Providing an even playing field for competition between schools improves attracting more student athletes into sports.