Niagara-on-the-Lake kids were out in almost full force on Monday, as sports teams finally started to return to the fields.
At Centennial Sports Park in Virgil, the NOTL Soccer Club and Niagara Lacrosse League were holding drills for the first time since the pandemic closed down team sports last year.
The general feeling in the air was of relief, happiness and laughter.
"It's first time he's touched the ball in quite a while — a year and a half anyway," said Rick Abraham, whose nine-year-old son Adam was playing soccer.
His mother Heni said it was a huge relief that soccer was starting again.
"He has not seen his friend for two years in a way," she said.
"They need some normalcy in their lives. Just playing with your brother alone or primarily is not normal. This is great. They get to go out and interact," Rick said.
They both said they feel comfortable being out again, now that they've got their first vaccine shot and are coming up on their second.
Rick said they've been looking forward to getting back to sports for a while.
"We have three kids and they're all very active. One son is very active in hockey and that's basically been a total shutdown for a year and a half."
Adam normally plays squash as White Oaks, but can't yet because it's indoors.
"Look at all those smiles. Priceless," Heni said.
Chris Williams, president of Niagara-on-the-Lake minor lacrosse, was on the field with presidents from St. Catharines, Lincoln and Fort Erie. He and the other presidents recently formed a Niagara-wide lacrosse league.
Monday was the first time the kids have been able to play for 18 months, he said.
"We're super excited," he said. "We created something that's called the Niagara Lacrosse League, it's for all the Niagara region. And we're going to get the kids back on the field playing again," he said.
He said the league includes kids from ages three to 20 and already has about 300 registered.
The younger age groups started on Monday while the older ages were gearing up on Wednesday.
He said using the NOTL fields in Virgil is only temporary, until they can use turf space in Niagara Falls.
St. Catharines lacrosse president Sallah Hamdani said, "We love the game. We want to give back and the kids want to play."
"And it's exciting to see the kids out here laughing again, seeing friends that they haven't seen in a long time because some kids come from different different areas of the Niagara region. It's good to see them having fun," Williams added.
"That's the joy. Absolutely. We just heard some kid laugh over there, like just this big belly laugh right and it was kind of like, OK, this is this is awesome. This is how it's supposed to be."
He said the league is following all rules, doing COVID health checks and limiting the number of people on the field. For now they're only allowed to do training exercises.
NOTL soccer coach Adriano Giordano said it's a big relief to get the kids back out on the field. The kids were playing an open session before the season really starts, sort of like tryouts.
"It's been a long time coming. We're just trying to get ready for the season and have these tryouts or open sessions right now to see who's going to be on the team this year and we can't wait for the season to start," Giordano said.
He said it was nice to see all the activities taking place, including the lacrosse.
"You could tell everyone is just ready to get back out," he said, noting they're doing it safely and taking it step by step. The soccer club is also limited to drills and training exercises right now.
"We did a little warm up, we did like a little obstacle course where they're running through the cones, dribbling, passing and taking the shot," he said.
The main focus is on individual skills until the province allows more activity, hopefully in a few weeks.
He said the parents seemed just as excited as the kids.
Mark Kedziora was watching his son Henry do soccer drills and echoed the same feeling of just being happy to be outside with people again.
"It feels good to be back out with other kids, other parents, watching the kids interact with each other. It's great to see the community coming together for sure."
Like most, his son hadn't played soccer with other kids since March 2020.
Kedziora said it's been tough and the kids have gotten "very antsy. It's important for them to let out some of that energy."
At the same time, it's amazing how resilient the kids are, he said. Watching them run and play, it's like a pandemic never happened.