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Sports a family affair

TRIPLE THREAT: Samantha, Jamie and Ally Haggart huddle around their mom, Katherine, who they say has been a touchstone for their high school sporting lives at Northern, Greenwood College School and Lawrence Park.

Siblings get that extra assist from parents

Ally Haggart calls back.

After a 15-minute chat with her family — mother Katherine and her fellow triplets Samantha and Jamie about what it means to be a family involved in high school sports — there’s a note of concern in the second call from the Lawrence Park CI snowboarder.

She’s forgotten a key nugget of information, and there’s a request to right the wrong.

“I want people to see how dedicated my mom is to the school and all of the athletes,” Ally says. “She acted as that parental figure to them and not just me.

“It would not have been possible if it was not for her.”

It’s been a year of hard work that both she and mother Katherine put in to build the new snowboarding team in Panthers country.

Though Mother’s Day is long past, the work of a student-athlete’s mom through the school year and summer season is never done.

“I guess I’ve paid Shell Canada’s mortgage or something lately,” Katherine says, with a laugh. “Lots of gas, lots of driving, even just getting them to practice, never mind the events.

“We often want to stay to cheer them on so we’re spending a good chunk of the day at the event.”

Her pride: Ally, honoured with the OFSAA Character Award for leadership at Lawrence Park; Samantha, who swims and snowboards for Northern SS; and brother Jamie who attends Greenwood College School, skiing the slalom for the Grizzlies.

Even though his mother’s focus is more on his sisters, he’s as cool as the hills he glides on.

“Along with my school we go around Ontario. It’s usually hard to hop on the bus in the morning but it is rewarding,” he said. “It’s great.”

Having three 16-year-olds go to three different schools may be a brooding dilemma but Katherine would have it no other way.

“It’s great that they have their own space to be their own people in their own schools, and especially when you’re dealing with triplets there’s this tendency to compare,” she said. “The girls, except for snowboarding, have tried not to be in the same sports or activities.”

Samantha agrees.

“It’s nice because you can have your own group of friends,” she said. “I guess if we all went to the same schools we would have the same group of friends.”

North Americans have a soft spot in their hearts for sports families. Look no further than the Sutters of the NHL, the Mannings of the NFL and the Ripkens of Major League Baseball.

RUNNING WITH THE PACK: Humberside Huskies Adam, Will and Rob Gavrakovs got into sports at the encouragement of their mom, Sue, centre, because to her sports taught life skills that her sons wouldn’t get anywhere else.

The first family of sports at Humberside Collegiate is the Gavrakovs with a history that dates back to the class of 1952 when grandfather and then-football captain Ted White married his high-school cheerleading sweetheart Shirley.

Grandsons Adam, Rob and Will are all one year apart in school and have performed a feat never seen before by Huskies: they played on the same varsity lacrosse team, says mother Sue Gavrakovs.

“We took a picture of all three boys and my father sent it around to all his chums that were still around and in all their memory they couldn’t remember three brothers on the same varsity team,” she says.

Much like any family, a little healthy competition doesn’t hurt, as Adam, now,  at the University of Western Ontario, always measures his sporting feats by most lacrosse goals or lowest score in golf with his brothers.

“We’re always competing between the three of us, like any siblings would, but it’s good out of the way in sports so it doesn’t come back into the house and cause a ruckus,” he says.

What transpired from that friendly rivalry are the life skills that parents Sue and Greg Gavrakovs have come to respect in sports.

“From a young age we encouraged them to take part in just about anything they were interested in,” Sue said. “We went the route of T-ball and soccer, and hockey was a constant throughout.

“As they got older, after experiencing all the different things, they started deciding their own paths.”

Travel back east to Leaside and you’ll find a family of four girls who have been tethered together through soccer and tennis.

SISTERHOOD: Stephanie Petsis, far left, started the ball rolling for her sisters when she took up soccer and tennis at a young age. Now Debbie, Thalia and Thea are following in her sneakers playing for some of the same sports teams at Leaside High School.

The Petsis sisters, age 12, 14, 16 and 19, have a common bond through sport. With Vivian and Konstantine’s eldest daughter Stephanie now attending University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, another daughter, Thea, has come up to replace her on the Lancers sports teams. The 14-year-old will join her other older sister Thalia among the ranks of the soccer team.

And Thalia expects it to be a seamless transition much like hers to the team when Stephanie was attending Leaside High School.

“I came on pretty confident because I had an elder sister on, so I had an advantage over everyone,” she says. “I wasn’t nervous for games because I always used to watch her play and watch her go for OFSAA.

“I’m pretty excited to have my sister, Thea, on the team because I know she can communicate,” she adds. “She’s probably as confident as I was.”

During Stephanie’s childhood the Petsis family travelled along to watch their sister play both tennis and soccer, which in turn led to Debbie, 12, and Thea, to pick up the sports just as quick.

“The little ones kind of got left out in a way because we had to drive around a lot for Stephanie their whole life,” Vivian says. “(But people) wonder how Debbie reads the game so much, and it’s probably because she’s been watching it.”

With her third daughter hitting the French immersion program at Leaside this September, Vivian has one issue that needs to be addressed.

“A lot of teachers don’t like sports at Leaside,” she said. “Luckily you have the good ones that support you.”

Vivian says Stephanie was shy, so she often wouldn’t explain why she missed classes. And in other cases, daughter Thalia’s volleyball went without coaches because of a lack of volunteers.

It wasn’t until the Lansdownes, a husband-wife teaching team, volunteered to work with the volleyball team that it had a coach.

Stephanie admits volunteerism was limited at Leaside.

“They usually have some teachers who have been doing those sports for years,” she said. “They were all gym teachers but they all knew about the sport because they had been coaching it for years.

“But I do feel there could be some more coaches, I guess, or volunteers who don’t go to the school.”

Since attending school in the United States, Stephanie has learned how vital high school sports south of the border are.

“That’s their biggest thing, and they train every day like we do for rep soccer up here,” she says. “When you want to go play on a team for university they look at your high school results and State, which is our OFSAA.”

It was at a Leaside girls soccer tournament where Stephanie was scouted, but in the end she opted for the tennis court instead of the footie field.

Not to cast aspersions on Leaside’s athletics program, Vivian, is grateful for the opportunities the Lancers offered Stephanie and continue to offer Thalia, freshman Thea and will offer Debbie when she arrives in two years.

“They’ve given them the opportunity like with Stephanie going to OFSAA,” Vivian says.
And it gives students something to do with their extra time.

“It beats kids being on the streets,” she says. “Even the girls at Leaside. Do you prefer them sitting out there sitting, smoking on the hills or out at the malls?

“School sports is your social part too,” Vivian adds. “They need to have that balance. They can’t always be in the books.”

When the games are all over, Thalia says, there’s always something to talk about around the dinner table.

“We have something in common, it’s something we can talk about and there will always be an argument about who’s better at what sport,” she says. “But at the same time it can take us apart because it splits us up.

“We’re just scattered everywhere. Dad’s taking Thea to soccer, I’m going to practice with a friend and Stephanie is going here, but we always have time to come together at the end of the game.”

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