Game Fixer

Respect is due volunteers

BRIAN BAKER, The Game Fixer

A retired teacher looked at me and rued the self-entitlement of some students when it comes to extra-curricular sports in high schools.

In the setting of a hockey arena he expressed, with great passion, his displeasure at the Emil Cohen debacle. The gent was candid — and off the record — but below the surface I knew he took a direct hit from the “Soccer is synonymous with the word ‘unnecessary’” speech.

When I first heard it was a Northern student who peppered his teachers with an opening salvo against “abject failure”, I was shocked.

But I waited until after the fallout instead of joining the knee-jerk media bandwagon, decrying freedom of speech infringements.

Those headlines came ad nauseam with the excess baggage of pundits who have never seen Northern teachers at field level, courtside or in the arena. (It’s possible some of them don’t even know where Northern is).

I watch those dedicated teachers volunteer their time before and after the school bell rings. I see their interaction with players. The passion they have for sports. The winning teams they produce year-over.

I see the sacrifices teachers make both at work and at home to ensure students get to compete.

So when Cohen commented, “We had a team this year, due to the tenacity and perseverance of several players, who took it upon themselves to do the phys ed department’s job and find a coach”, it does come across as entitled because it is not in a teacher’s job description to coach sports.

It’s voluntary, and Wendy Luck, head of the girls phys ed department, is one of many Northern coaches I see taking up multiple teams.

“It’s a lot of time. I’m not going to lie there (but) I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she said. “I’m happier than a pig in you-know-what to get up in the morning.”

Almost two hours before the opening exercises, she’s coaching either the girls basketball team in the fall or the volleyball team in the winter. Depending on where Luck travels from, that’s got to be at least a 5 a.m. wake-up time.

That builds character, not to mention strong ties.

“The relationships you have with the kids outside the classroom makes life a lot easier inside the classroom,” Luck said.

I agree. To this day, I still keep in touch with my teachers who took a large chunk of their personal time to teach my fellow Anderson CVI thespians drama.

In 1997, students across the province had their own drama. It was my OAC year and the largest teacher strike was occurring in Ontario. Premier Mike Harris and Education Minister John Snobelen were four-letter words in the halls of schools and after the two-week work stoppage our teachers went work-to-rule.

That meant absolutely no extra-curricular activities. But we did not complain when life gave us lemons; instead we made lemonade.

Our annual series of one-act plays, Spontaneous Combustion, went on with the hard work of the drama club. We did not gripe, we just did. But we did acknowledge our work with the title “Student Run 1”.

I don’t admonish Cohen for standing up for his beliefs, but there is a certain modicum of respect needed when broaching issues with his phys ed department. Especially when the most expensive currency is on the line: time.

The point is Northern had a soccer team. The students took it upon themselves to keep it going. Kudos. Though they may see themselves as the small fish in Red Knights sports, Cohen and his friends have kept their passion alive by organizing the team.

It calls to mind a quote my OAC drama teacher, Doug Craven, used to say in class: “There are no small roles, only small actors”.

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