Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A tribute to winners, both on the field and off

PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2005.07.05
EDITION: Final
SECTION: Special Section
PAGE: E1 / Front
BYLINE: Martin Cleary
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen
ILLUSTRATION: Colour Photo: Bruno Schlumberger, The Ottawa Citizen / (Seehard copy for photo description).
NOTE: Athletes of the Year. Ran with fact box "About this specialSports supplement", which has been appended to the story.

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A tribute to winners, both on the field and off: For these student-athletes, sport is more than just a game

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If you're looking for the true meaning of sport, it's right there in your neighbourhood. Just head down the street and look for the group of book-carrying high school students.

You'll see sport as it was meant to be played in the gymnasium, where polite students turn into unrelenting athletes and become part of rival teams battling for ball possession, points, victories and championships.

It will be right in front of you on the grassy, or not-so-grassy, fields as heavily padded brutes or fleet-footed lightweights without much protection dart quickly in all sorts of directions to get the ball across a white, lime line.

Some days, individuals will step into a tight cement circle to launch a metal object, sprint 100 metres past the noisy grandstand or ride a pole high into the air before falling onto a blue ocean of mats.

Ah, high school sports. There's no slice of sport like it.

A multitude of boys and girls sports, spanning 10 months, stirs the spirit of the student population to a feverish, horn-blowing pitch, allows someone who has never played the sport to be given a chance rather than the boot, and stresses values and sportsmanship as much as, if not more than, strategy and a two-minute offence.

It's different from pro sport or community sport. There's an educational component strapped to the games, an element designed to teach the student-athletes to view sports from all angles and develop other aspects of their lives. It's simply a game. The student-athletes play hard, but also have been known to lock arms after the final championship whistle for an inter-team photo. Parents are supportive, well-behaved and accepting of a win, loss or tie.

It's a more physical and competitive part of their education. It's also part of the dress rehearsal for the future.

Like sport at any level, whether it's mosquito football or the Olympic Games, winning is a key element of the mix during that specific time frame. The student-athletes train hard, when part-time jobs don't pull them from practices, and play even harder for the purpose of bringing honour and glory to their schools.

But it's not a winning-is-everything attitude. First and foremost, school is the primary task. Sports is the extracurricular activity. So the student-athletes must do well in the classrooms, behave in the hallways and execute well in their sport to maintain a spot on the roster.

It's not uncommon for student-athletes to be told by the coach, who can be a teacher or someone from the community, that he or she will have to miss a game or two until the marks improve in a certain subject. Poor sportsmanship or a school suspension also can deny a student-athlete a chance to represent the school.

In an unprecedented example this spring, Gloucester High School withdrew its team from the Ontario high school senior boys AAAA soccer championship. After winning the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association title last fall, the students couldn't pull it together over the next seven months -- making trip payments, completing the permission-to-go paperwork and attending practices -- to deserve the right to attend the provincials.

It was important for the student-athletes to learn they must do the little things right before they get the big reward, just like in real life.

"If the players don't show character and you take the team, it becomes a reward for not having character," Gloucester athletic director Geof Hamlin said at the time. "School sports is meant to be an educational experience."

The gymnasiums, fields and tracks have now fallen silent as the student-athletes enjoy a summer break.

As a unique way of signing off on the 2004-05 NCSSAA athletics season, the Citizen today recognizes the senior female and senior male high school athletes of the year from the Ottawa English, Ottawa-Carleton Catholic, French public and French Catholic school boards.

There are 55 member high schools in the NCSSAA and 52 honoured their top all-around senior athletes this year. Gisele Lalonde Public Secondary School only went up to Grade 10 this school year and won't congratulate its top senior athletes until 2005-06. Lycee Claudel has elected not to honour its best athletes.

Sadly, Laurentian High School, which closed its doors June 30 for the final time, didn't spotlight its leading athletes.

"Unfortunately, due to a lack of participation in the sports program at Laurentian, we will not select any male or female athletes this year," said Rick Berry, the school's athletic director.

On the other hand, J.S. Woodsworth Secondary School used its year of closure to honour female and male athletes of the year in all four grades: Erin Levy and Stephen McArthur, Grade 12; Brianna Tuor and Carolyn Hall, and Adam Palmer, Grade 11; Lauren Shute and Aric Ziebarth, Grade 10; and Julie Poirier and Shady Piedra Abu Sharar, Grade 9.

The Citizen today pays tribute to 108 student-athletes for their all-around achievements, whether they played one sport, seven sports or a double-digit combination of interscholastic and intramural sports. Michaela Keenan-Pelletier somehow found time to play 24 interscholastic sports in her four years at Immaculata and maintain a high A average.

The athletes of the year aren't necessarily the stars of the various teams, the ones scoring the most points in a basketball game or racing for multiple touchdowns on a weekly basis.

Instead, they're the ones noted not only for their athleticism, but also for their ability to play a number of sports, show dedication to the team, determination, leadership and carry a positive outlook.

Performance in the classroom also is a consideration as many of this year's top senior athletes are Ontario scholars, carrying an 80-per-cent average or higher.

And when it came time for the commencement ceremonies at the NCSSAA member high schools, at least four student-athletes -- Dan Bevan of Immaculata, Miranda Eng of Sir Robert Borden, Samuel Maley of Woodroffe, and Mary Traill of the Ottawa Tech Learning Centre -- were chosen to be the valedictorians of their graduating classes.

"Everyone has a lot of talent inside. It's a matter of using it and being motivated ... to do stuff with your talents," Bevan said.

Some student-athletes strictly are high school athletes and elect not to play community sports. They play the games to challenge themselves, learn to work as part of a team and enjoy the social aspect of being with friends.

But for many other student-athletes, high school sports serves as an extension of their commitment to a higher level of sports.

Hillcrest's Allan Brett, who won the senior boys 1,500-metre gold medal at the Ontario high school track and field championships and a bronze medal at the provincial cross-country high school running championships, was recently named to represent Canada at the IAAF world youth track and field championships July 13-17 in Marrakech, Morocco.

Canterbury's Carrie Lugg is a national-level ringette player. Lisa Sunstrum of Osgoode Township is a national juvenile broomball champion.

Come September, it starts all over again.

The high school gyms will re-open to the sounds of girls basketball tryouts and the fields will be filled with soccer and football players. The cross-country runners will head for the trails and the golfers will walk to the first tee.

High school athletes, as they have done for decades, will play for the love of the game, the thrill of winning one for the school and the chance to receive hallway recognition from their peers and the principal.

The quest for the true essence of sport is coming again soon, right around the corner.

About This Special Sports Supplement

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Class of 2005, when it comes to high school sports in Ottawa.

For the past three weeks, the Citizen has worked in conjunction with athletic directors from the 55 member high schools of the National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association to pay tribute to the senior male and senior female athletes of the year from 2004-05.

As a way of ending the high school sports season with a meaningful high-five, the Citizen wrote a letter to each athletic directors requesting information about each of the top senior athletes, plus photographs. The high schools selected their senior athletes as part of their year-end athletics award banquets.

The athletic directors responded with enthusiasm. Over the next five pages of this special six-page supplement, you'll see stories and thumbnail sketches on the NCSSAA's 108 senior athletes of the year from 52 high schools.

Three schools -- Laurentian High School, Gisele Lalonde Public High School and Lycee Claudel High School -- aren't part of the supplement because they chose not to select senior athletes of the year for 2004-05 for various reasons.

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