LETTER: High school sport is about opportunity

Dear editor:

Something unique happened this past week. My grade 11 son, who has physical and intellectual disabilities, ran alongside his West Vancouver secondary school teammates at the North Shore High School Track and Field Championships. He qualified in his middle- and long-distance events to go to the provincial high school championships in Kelowna June 1.

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But he won’t be going. There’s nothing there for him.

In April, the B.C. Highschool Track and Field Association eliminated events for athletes with physical disabilities (“para athlete” events, which it introduced in 2015) because of “poor participation.” Further, coaches around the province were told there was no need to host para events at their zone championships.

So I’m afraid my son’s experience at his zone championship may have been unique in B.C. this spring. This is especially sad since B.C. has one of the worst records in Canada for participation of para athletes in high school athletics (track and field and cross country). Almost every province does a better job than us of identifying, recruiting and developing athletes with physical challenges.

But it’s not all sad for us on the North Shore. Because people like Gerry Karvelis, Leslie Buchanan, Mark Fenn and a score of high school track and field coaches ignored the BCTFA’s directive, my son had the chance to compete. Competition is one of the core purposes of high school sport. So is training. It’s not actually about winning, even though winning is nice.

High school sport is about opportunity, and that’s what these coaches provide. They generously volunteer their time to create opportunities for kids because they think it’s important. They have gone beyond that in what they probably think of as “no big deal” in how they’ve included and encouraged my son. Their mentorship, the example they set for their students, the dignity with which they treat my son has created a culture of sportsmanship and inclusion for all athletes that sadly, seems to be unique in BC.

In my world as a parent, the word “special” has connotations that aren’t always welcome. But thanks to the efforts of these fine people, my son is experiencing a profoundly “special” running community that is an example for the rest of B.C.

To the high school coaches of North and West Vancouver, a heartfelt thank-you.

Carmen Farrell
North Vancouver

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