It’s something that nervously crosses every parent’s mind whenever their children travel any distance this time of year to play in a game or tournament.
Will they return safely?
That fear was hammered home again Saturday when a van carrying a high school boys’ basketball team went out of control on an icy highway near Bathurst, N.B., and slammed into a truck.
Seven players and one adult were killed.
Doug Prescott, president of the New Brunswick Interscholastic Athletic Association, said everyone is aware of the potential dangers of driving teams in quick-changing winter weather.
“We all are very cognizant that any time our teams travel, they put themselves at some risk,” he said.
“Weather varies from one region of the province to another and all coaches or assistant coaches take as much safety precautions as is humanly possible to ensure the safety of the student athletes who are entrusted to them.”
The Phantoms from Bathurst High School were returning home from a game in Moncton, N.B., about 220 kilometres away, when the accident occurred.
It had been snowing for most of the day in the Bathurst area, followed by a mix of snow and ice pellets, and police said the roads were icy when the van’s driver lost control.
The team was scheduled to play in Bathurst on Saturday afternoon.
John McLaughlin, a superintendent with the area school board, said provincial law dictates that anyone driving a vehicle with 14 or more passengers must have a special licence.
“And that teacher had that licence, yes,” he said.
But as to other policies in place governing things like when teams shouldn’t drive, McLaughlin suggested they’re aren’t any.
“That’s really hard because you have to gauge the weather each time you have to make a decision,” he said.
“As for what happened last night, I can’t comment. I don’t have that information. But in general, our people take great care in making decisions based on the information that they have at the time.”
The RCMP said the van was equipped with seatbelts but it was too early to say if anyone was using them. The force of the impact was so great it ripped the passenger benches from the vehicle and ejected them into the snow.
There have been a number of fatal crashes over the years involving sports or school groups travelling between games.
In 1986, a bus carrying the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League hit a patch of ice and skidded off a highway in Saskatchewan, killing four players.
In 2002, four children from a school in Newton, Mass., were killed when a bus carrying them to a music festival in Halifax went off the road near Sussex, N.B., and flipped.
In 2005, four people died when a bus carrying the Windsor Wildcats junior women’s hockey team from Windsor Ont., slammed into a parked tractor-trailer near Rochester, N.Y.