Bobby McKinlay has had enough.
The president of Bentley Minor Hockey is lending his voice to help kids return to the ice and activities they enjoy.
McKinlay helped organize a “Let Them Play” march in Bentley Tuesday outside the local arena, to try and turn the spotlight on kids who are suffering without sports during the pandemic. More than 20 hockey organizations across Alberta have reached out to hold their own rally in support of the cause.
“This is the last chance for the kids to stand up for what they are missing more than anything in life,” said McKinlay, who grew up playing hockey himself and has three kids who play.
“We’re worried about all kinds of things, their well-being – what they get from hockey. Hockey and youth sports, in general, is not just about the game or winning, it’s about so much more.”
McKinlay wanted to make clear this is not a fight against COVID-19 or the science, but the restrictions that are keeping kids away from sports.
He said that in November when the pandemic was much worse than it is now, there were already tight restrictions in place to make sure the kids were safe at the rink. He thinks that many minor hockey organizations are even willing to go above and beyond that to get hockey back.
“We’re ready to do anything when it comes to restrictions just to find a way to get on the ice,” he said.
“Simple things like no parents in the arena, kids come dressed, wear a mask at all times, limited coaches and masks. No dressing room use. Time in between skates so there is no crossover. My list was pretty long.”
The Alberta government paused sports activities in November for some regions, before adding even stricter COVID-19 measures in December across the province, which have continued through Jan. 26.
He said kids are confused about the regulations, considering they can go to school with many kids on their hockey team, but can’t go to the rink and practice.
With three kids in minor hockey, the father understands the toll the shutdown is taking on young athletes.
“They care dearly about this. They were doing quite fine thinking that maybe January 12 was going to breathe some air into their hopes, they’re not anymore,” he said.
Hockey Alberta said Tuesday that if the Alberta government does not provide new information about a return to play by Feb. 1, a decision by the organization will be made about hockey for the rest of the season.
“To date, representatives of Hockey Alberta have met with Alberta Health and Government of Alberta representatives on several occasions, as recently as last week. Discussions have focused on how hockey can be relaunched in a way that ensures the safety of all participants,” the statement read.
In a Facebook post on the Bentley Minor Hockey page, a clear set of rules tell families to follow all COVID-19 protocols and space out if there are more than 10 people. The post also makes it clear the event is about the kids and their return to sport, not about parents.
“I wouldn’t be able to look my kids in the eye if I didn’t try and do something and grow the courage to do this in a way that it will get looked at in a positive light,” he said.
He added that he has been supported by a number of people, including Lane Moore and Chad Beagle in Rimbey, who held a Let Them Play rally Saturday.
“Those two people helped me get the courage to keep it going and make their efforts not wasted,” McKinlay added.