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Local sports take hit from wildfire smoke

The smoke from sweeping burns across Alberta disrupts local sporting events and activities.
Heavy wildfire smoke blankets the Sturgeon River valley in St Albert on Saturday, May 20.

Tournaments, games and practices for local sports have all been cancelled due to the heavy blanket of smoke that rolled into St. Albert last week and through the weekend. 

St. Albert Minor Baseball Association (SAMBA) was forced to cancel the Larry Rindero Memorial Tournament, a major annual event involving 36 teams from across the province and president Kurtus Millar said the group is very disappointed they had to cancel.

"Weeks of planning went into this event as it does every year, and we always receive a lot of great feedback about the tournament. All our AA teams compete in the tourney and their families help us put on a great event."

Millar said despite the disappointment, the club had to focus on the kids' health and safety. 

"In the weather policy, which we completely agree with, with an air quality of seven or higher, we have to suspend all outdoor activities. Even though we would have loved nothing more than to see the tournament go ahead, we have to keep player safety top of mind."

And the tournament requires a long weekend to run, Millar said, so it won't be able to run again until 2024. 

"We’d love to reschedule the tournament for another weekend, but some of our surrounding associations offer their tournaments during the coming weekends, which our teams try to support, and we don’t want to cause any issues there."

The distressing situation isn't just limited to the disappointment of athletes, Millar said, and the umpire coordinator John Bresler worked very hard to find and assign umps for all these games, and the tournament committee did a lot of prep work.

"Our grounds crew also worked very hard, as they always do, to prep and plan for the tournament."

The St. Albert Mustangs Track and Field Club is another local organization bearing the brunt of the wildfires. Ruth Wiart, a media relations spokesperson for the club, said they had to cancel events. 

 "We have cancelled two or three individual practices. High school city championships were also cancelled; many of our athletes were scheduled to attend."

Athletics Alberta, the governing body for the Mustangs, has guidelines around when activities should be suspended based on the Air Quality Index, Wiart said. If the air quality reaches seven or higher, the organization cancels practices and competitions. 

"Our athletes' health is our number one priority," Wiart said. 

"It has a significant impact on the athletes," Wiart added. "They are missing important practices to prepare them for upcoming track meets that are qualifiers for Alberta Summer Games and Team Alberta Legion Nationals."

The St. Albert Impact soccer club has also seen their routine disrupted due to the wildfire smoke.

Viktor Pulo, who coaches the 2006 men's squad said it’s incredibly sad to see the wildfires spreading and affecting so many people.

"During the smokey season, the practices have to be adjusted. We have to adjust the intensity and shorten the length of it. There have been a lot of games and practices cancelled during this wildfire season," Pulo said. 

"We make sure the athletes are safe first. It’s a tough situation, but the wellbeing of our players is paramount."