What Happens Now? A U SPORTS Football player after Cancellation

Toronto, ON- 2020 was set to be the end of a long journey, a senior year tying a bow on a long football career and ideally helping the storied St. Mary’s Football program to their first AUS title in over a decade. Now though, just the same as the rest of his Huskies teammates, offensive lineman Peter Kourtis is left to ponder what might have been and wonder about what comes next.

One of the clear impacts COVID-19 has had has been on university and college life. In March, schools were forced to shutter their campuses, thousands of courses were moved online and an entire graduating class walked across a virtual stage in June rather than in an overcrowded theatre. Over the summer, universities across the country announced a complete shift to online classes for Fall 2020 but those announcements left an important question, what would happen to university athletes like Peter?

Kourtis [far left] (Courtesy: Peter Kourtis)

It’s a question athletic programs were made to think about for months. After closing all U SPORTS athletics operations in the middle of Hockey and Volleyball championship weekend back in March, the four conferences (OUA, AUS, CanWest, and RSEQ) were forced to grapple with the optics have athletes competing whilst mandating online classes versus cancelling the 2020 Fall season and potentially ending the career of senior athletes.

Peter Kourtis is one of those athletes although he certainly wasn’t expecting to be, “I finished my third year of university at Saint Mary’s before spent the summer at home in Toronto. I was planning to stay in Halifax for the summer and was invited to the East-West bowl in Ottawa but COVID changed those plans”

For Peter, life has always been centred on football. Growing up in west Toronto meant trips to see the Argos at the Rogers Centre with his younger brother John, their uncle and their dad.

The Kourtis brothers joined together to play for their championship winning high school football team, the Michael Power Saint Joseph Trojans before heading their separate ways. John went to Virginia to join the Liberty Flames NCAA program and Peter headed east, finding a home in Halifax and a place anchoring the offensive line in the St. Mary’s starting lineup.

In the early part of the pandemic Peter never let the uncertainty of the situation get to him, “I have been very fortunate throughout all of this to be a position where I was able to keep training and get ahead. I’ve had a gym available to me and have been taking full advantage of it.”

(Courtesy: Peter Kourtis)

As the pandemic has worn on though, for an athlete like Peter being stuck on the sidelines becomes an exercise frustration because in his eyes, “I 100% want to play” he says “and I believe that we should”. “Especially being on the East Coast where cases haven’t been that bad I believe that we should be able to play and I don’t think that there would be anything wrong with us playing.”

Initially he looked like right, as in the spring the chances of a football season in the AUS looked genuinely hopeful. The Atlantic Canadian “Bubble” was holding strong with under 1400 announced cases between the four provinces by the end of May. In June though, whispers started to become louder that the AUS would be shelving all on-campus sports until earliest Jan. 1 2021.

Finally on June 8, 2020 the other shoe dropped with AUS, OUA and Canada West concurrently announcing the cancellation of the 2020 Fall Season. AUS Executive Director Phil Currie delivered a statement that read in part

AUS Executive Director Phil Currie delivered a statement that read in part:

“It is with very heavy hearts that we make this announcement today, our thoughts are with our student-athletes, coaches and athletic department staff for whom this decision will have the biggest impact”.

-Phil Currie, AUS

“For me the first reaction was that it was a big punch in the gut” Peter says, “it was extremely disappointing”. He knows that for the Saint Mary’s Huskies, the most successful team in AUS Football history with Vanier Cups in 1973, 2001, 2002 and 24 AUS Conference titles, 2020 looked to be a good shot at breaking their title drought after falling in the Loney Bowl Championship Game in 2017 and 2018.

Saint Mary's University |
(SMU Huskies Athletics)

Even without games to play he has still made the yearly trip out to Halifax to be part of the team because “The coaches still want us on campus to participate in team events that they still want to run.”

Stuck in a truly unprecedented situation Peter has been forced to search for a bright side and he seems to have found one as he acknowledges that “At least I’ll spend this year training and still have 2 more seasons of eligibility in Canada.” Two more years, two more shots to bring a title to Halifax, two more chances to wrap up a long football career.

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