A FIXTURE has been released, but the Ararat Rats are remaining cautious about the possibility of a full junior football and netball competition being played this year.
The fixture for an eight-week, 14-team season was released on Tuesday, with clubs from the Wimmera league, the Horsham District league, and one team from the Kowree-Naracoorte-Tatiara league registered to compete.
The modified season is scheduled to begin on July 25 and will have no finals.
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AFL Victoria reaffirmed its commitment to junior sport in regional Victoria on Wednesday, despite Melbourne reentering lockdown due to COVID-19.
"AFL Victoria and community leagues will continue to work with the state government so that any resumption of community football activity in Victoria does not compromise the health of individuals or the community. If that advice changes, then AFL Victoria and community leagues will act accordingly," a statement said.
Ararat Rats president David Hosking said he was hopeful of seeing juniors back competing in the historic red and white.
Mr Hosking however acknowledged the precariousness of the situation.
He said it was understandable if parents and families were hesitant to participate in a season given the current climate.
"We'd like to play, and we'll do whatever we can within the rules to get people out there," Mr Hosking said.
"But at the end of the day, if our members and people don't want to do it, then we can't, and we won't.
"We've had to go back to our parents and players with everything that is going on and explain how it's going to look. We need them to acknowledge that they're comfortable to keep going, otherwise it just can't go ahead."
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Clubs also will have to abide by strict protocols, including thoroughly cleaning change rooms before and after games, and having no spectators at games except for one parent or guardian per family.
Mr Hosking said because of Ararat's proximity to Melbourne, there was slightly more concern for the Rats than other competing clubs.
While there are currently no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Ararat or Northern Grampians regions, the number of cases in Melbourne is rising by more than 100 per day.
"The big worry for us - and for Stawell too - is that most people that have been going to Halls Gap and to the Grampians are coming through Ararat," he said.
"And there have been a lot of people going through there."
Mr Hosking however said a season without junior football or netball being played could affect the club's ability to retain juniors and help them transition into the club's senior ranks.
"You lose some connectivity. I've got no doubt that every club will lose some players to the game out of this," he said.
"We know how the drop-off level in junior footy goes. From Auskick to under-15s to under-17s, as you go through the levels, it drops off.
"If they don't play a season, it's going to accelerate that drop-off.
"Unfortunately there's the possibility that kids might think that sport is just not that important to them."
Mr Hosking described the overall feeling as "cautiously optimistic".
Ararat is scheduled to play the Stawell Warriors at home in the first round of the season.
AFL Wimmera-Mallee area manager Jason Muldoon also stressed the importance of clubs focussing on participation in the modified competition, not winning.
Several clubs will join forces to field combined junior teams in the modified competition.
Three teams will be combined from two clubs, with the Southern Mallee Giants and Jeparit-Rainbow, Warrack Eagles and Rupanyup, and Kaniva-Leeor United and Nhill joining forces to enter teams.
Mr Muldoon said the possibility of Swifts and Great Western combining for junior netball was also being explored, as Swifts were unable to field junior netball sides.
Horsham District league clubs Taylors Lake, Harrow-Balmoral and Edenhope-Apsley will not participate.
Nhill and District Sporting Club president Ash Dickinson said he was pleased to be able to combine forces with Kaniva-Leeor United to get teams participating. He said the combination lessened concerns about playing numbers and lightened the burden on volunteers.
Mr Dickinson said players and parents would now have to adapt quickly to a new system.
"It's going to be different, with the kids just turning up, playing, then going home again," he said. "There's still some work to be done ... but we're working through it and hopefully, we can see them out there on July 25th."
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