Port Alberni Black Sheep David Symington, left, and Conner Alexander chase down Cowichan Piggies’ Louis Gudmensmith during the Black Sheep’s home turf victory in Div. 1 men’s rugby action back in 2019. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Port Alberni Black Sheep David Symington, left, and Conner Alexander chase down Cowichan Piggies’ Louis Gudmensmith during the Black Sheep’s home turf victory in Div. 1 men’s rugby action back in 2019. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Black Sheep Rugby Club gets a hand up to help them through COVID-19

Port Alberni club receives provincial sport relief grant

The Port Alberni Black Sheep rugby club has received funding support from the Local Sport Relief Fund through viaSport.

The Black Sheep are one of 64 community sport organizations on Vancouver Island to receive financial support through the $1.5-million B.C. provincial sports relief fund. They are the only Alberni Valley-based organization to receive funding in January 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put financial pressure on many local sports clubs throughout British Columbia that have had limited ability to offer programming and fundraise to cover expenses. Without financial support, these clubs are at risk of closure, leaving communities without local access to sport. A total of 288 organizations will be supported by the Local Sport Relief Fund.

The Black Sheep received $2,500, which will help them weather COVID-19 restrictions, head coach Jas Purewal said.

The team shut down operations in March 2020 under advisement of B.C.’s rugby union. In July viaSport came up with a return to play strategy, and teams were able to apply to play once strict conditions were met. Black Sheep COVID-19 director Bob Milton came up with the team’s safety plan, which allowed them to play touch rugby for a few months in the fall, Purewal said.

The grant “will go toward insurance of the clubhouse and additional cleaning supplies we’ve had to buy, and the utilities and any other COVID-related stuff we need,” he added.

He said the team is ready to get back on the field whenever they are cleared—but he’s not anticipating that will be anytime before next fall at the earliest.

If there’s any regrets he has, Purewal said it’s on behalf of the city’s high school rugby players. “All those Grade 11 kids never got to play (last year) and now they won’t get to play Grade 12. That’s a big, big loss. That’s such a big component of their Grade 11-12 years.”

The pause in play probably won’t affect their post-secondary play—everyone is in the same situation—but the connections players make on the pitch during high school games are invaluable to easing the way at college or university, he added.

“There’s a lot of life lessons learned.”

Grace Lore, MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill, said, “Sports are essential to our mental and physical well-being, and they help build community and connection. The pandemic has changed how we stay active, and these shifts have been hard on many local sport organizations. This funding will help clubs regain financial footing so they will be able to continue to bring people together and offer healthy and fun activities for everyone.”

“Coaches, volunteers and board members have worked around the clock to ensure people can keep active and gain the physical and mental benefits of sport during the pandemic,” said Melanie Mark, Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport. “We heard their challenges to meet financial pressures with current health orders in place and are proud to provide this additional support so our communities can continue to offer sport in a safe way.”

Rural and remote communities, as well as under-represented populations, such as Indigenous peoples, girls and women, low-income individuals, persons with disabilities and newcomers, are disproportionally impacted by limited physical activities during the pandemic. The Local Sport Relief Fund helps ensure sport opportunities are available to these groups by providing support to sports organizations that offer targeted programming.

“Local sport programming delivers profound benefits to the health and well-being of communities and individuals across our province,” said Charlene Krepiakevich, CEO, viaSport. “Delivering these community benefits are local sport organizations that have been hit hard during this time. This funding provides much-needed financial relief to sustain these organizations during these challenging times and enable these valuable services to continue.”

The Local Sport Relief Fund covers administration and operational costs for local sports organizations dealing with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Eligible expenses include insurance, administrative costs, rent, storage costs, equipment essential to providing sports programs and COVID-19 related supplies, such as cleaning products, signage and personal protective equipment. Given the significant number of applications received for the initial Local Sport Relief Fund, the ministry is considering other opportunities to support the sport sector.

Port Alberni Black Sheeprugby