Filling a coaching void

by Laurel Myers | February 28, 2013
High school basketball

Lo-Ellen vs. Lockerby junior boys basketball. PHOTO BY SUDBURYSPORTSPHOTOGRAPHY.COM

School sports haven’t been quite the same this year. Familiar faces have been missing from the sidelines, entire seasons have been cut and annual tournaments and provincial championships have been cancelled.

The changes have come as a result of Bill 115, which was passed in September 2012. Both the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), which represent local public teachers, directed their members to boycott extracurricular activities, including sports, starting Dec. 10, 2012, when the unions were in a legal strike position.

However, Rainbow District School Board director of education Norm Blaseg, said the boycott has had minimal impact on the number of sports the board has been able to provide, due in large part to an outpouring of community support.

“We have maintained over 90 per cent of the teams at the secondary level,” he said. “More than half of the teams continue at the elementary level and this number has been growing.”

At the elementary level, cross-country running was cancelled and soccer was postponed until the spring. As for high school, the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA), cancelled the Nordic ski and gymnastics championships, as well as the OFSAA snowboarding festival, due to a lack of adequate registrations from member associations. A number of local tournaments were also cut from the regular schedule.

Blaseg emphasized in some cases, the reason some sports have not run is because of a lack of students to field a team, not because of any job action preventing teachers from coaching. Where there is student interest, the board has done everything in its power to make those sporting opportunities available.

“We’ve had to rely on more community involvement than we ever have in the past,” he said. “In that way, we’ve been very fortunate and we’re very appreciative.”

However, Blaseg said it’s been made quite clear to the board the “teachers want to be coaching.”

“They are torn,” he said. “There’s a considerable amount of pressure for them to support their colleagues and the federation’s claims. For some of them, that’s a very difficult choice.”

Community volunteers ensure school sports continue

A teacher and regular coach at a local high school, who asked to remain anonymous, said despite the job action, “Rainbow schools have continued to run successful athletic programs.”

“We have many dedicated volunteer coaches who were put in place at the beginning of the winter season, alongside the teacher-coaches, with the understanding that the teacher-coaches may need to step aside,” the teacher said. “Some of these coaches are long-standing volunteers to our programs and others are graduated students who have returned to pay it forward.

“As for supervision, the administration staff within Rainbow schools have dedicated countless hours to ensure games run as scheduled,” the teacher added.

Joshua Desjardins, an 18-year-old student who is in his final year at Lively District Secondary School, stepped up to coach two different teams at his school. A multi-sport student-athlete himself, Desjardins coached both the junior boys’ and junior girls’ volleyball teams.

“I’m giving back to the school that has given me a lot as an athlete,” he said in an interview in December. “It feels really good teaching younger kids and seeing them succeed.”

He knows the pain of having a sport taken away from him. Last year, the senior boys’ basketball team was cut due to limited players. He didn’t want to see history repeat itself. “I saw younger athletes were going to be missing a whole year of sports. I wanted to make sure they had the opportunity to play.”

While the students are happy to be able to play their sports, Blaseg said it’s still been challenging for them, “because they want their teachers to be running these events.”

“That’s not to take away from the community coaches, because they’re wonderful. It’s just that sometimes there’s this expectation because it’s an extension of the classroom.

“The whole part of being a teacher is being that kind, caring adult, which extends from the classroom into an area where a kid excels, and a bond is formed,” Blaseg said. “It manifests a real positive outlook in the classroom as a result of that relationship.”

Overall, Blaseg’s sentiments reflect those of teachers and students alike. “We hope to get this behind us as soon as we can.”

-With files from Heidi Ulrichsen and Scott Haddow.

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