The cancellation of Hoopla 2024 has impacted high school athletes most acutely, and a ripple effect of disappointment is being felt by families, organizers, and hundreds of volunteers, but business owners are also speaking up to say the economic impact is a major one. 

“This will have a very heavy impact,” said Darlene Geib, manager at Moose Jaw’s Holiday Inn Express. “We were 90 per cent booked with Hoopla, starting (March 21) and going right through till Sunday.” 

Hoopla was officially cancelled as of 3 p.m. on March 20, as the deadline that the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) had set for the lifting of sanctions came and went.  

The cancellation could be the greatest impact so far from the bargaining impasse — and increasing antipathy — between the STF and the Government Trustee Bargaining Committee, as they seek acceptable compromises for a new contract. 

Roger Morgan, athletics commissioner for Prairie South School Division and the committee chair for Hoopla, issued a statement on March 18 noting that Hoopla relies heavily on the volunteer efforts of teachers across the province. Because current STF sanctions include the withdrawal of extracurricular activities for March 21 and 22, the tournament could not sustain itself. 

There will instead be a one-day tournament on Saturday, March 23 — but it’s a far cry from the size of the original. 

“I’ve been in hospitality for years, and been a host hotel in the past, and Hoopla, well, it is huge,” Geib said. “The whole extended family comes out. ... We’re working the phones, I’m in touch with the different groups and school divisions I was hosting, and it’s just a third level of stress for everyone involved, and of course most hotels require a 24-hour cancellation, so it’s adding a lot of pressure.” 

Geib said she feels for restaurants in Moose Jaw who had planned for a big weekend, bringing in extra staff and supplies to be ready for thousands of extra visitors. 

John Iatridis, owner of the Mad Greek Restaurant, agreed, and said he feels sympathy for the hotels. 

“We’ve overstaffed for this weekend, to make sure we offer the best service to all the people coming in, you know, and keep wait times as short and possible and be able to cater takeout, too,” Iatridis explained. 

“Personally, if we’re not full this weekend, I mean, we’ve been around a long time and we have a really good clientele, so I hope we’ll still be busy. ... But the hotels, it’s a whole different scenario, because six months ago people were probably calling for rooms, and hotels had to tell them, ‘hey, we’re full,’ and now they’re going to be basically empty.” 

Iatridis said that he believes everyone is thinking first of the high school athletes and how the loss of their sporting event is affecting them. The teachers also have his sympathy. 

“I was just telling my wife the other day, I think in the big picture, our kids probably spend more time with their teachers than with their parents, so it’s absolutely important that things be done as best as they possibly can for them. 

“Just from the business side of things, though, small business can only take so much.” 

Jacki L’Heureux-Mason, executive director of Tourism Moose Jaw, called the news “really, truly unfortunate,” and said she had been hoping for the best right up to the deadline. 

“At the end of the day, we’re going to have hundreds of hotels rooms empty and unable to be sold,” she said. 

Tourism and visitors are a major part of Moose Jaw’s economy, L’Heureux-Mason explained, and the city’s hotels, restaurants, and shops still feel they are at the start of recovering from the pandemic. 

“We just feel like we got the rug pulled out from us,” she added. “This was going to be the injection they were hoping would carry them through to a busier summer season. 

“They’ve already invested the money to be ready for all these people to come and enjoy our city. ... It’s real consequences, our outside guess is between $1.5 to $3 million that just won’t be in our community now.”