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 it 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.”

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

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