Sports minded

It’s a bal­anc­ing act for kids who must ex­cel in both sports and the class­room by Mackenzie Patterson

Bayview Post - - Kids -

High school comes with a huge amount of re­spon­si­bil­ity for a young teen, but add the gru­elling sched­ule of a high-level ath­lete to the mix, and it can be even more hec­tic. Schools that cater to elite ath­letes, like Blyth Acad­emy Downsview Park, St. An­drew’s Col­lege and the Hill Acad­emy, make al­lowances to ac­com­mo­date the busy life­style of stu­dent ath­letes so they can stay on track with aca­demics while pur­su­ing their ca­reer goals.

As sole ed­u­ca­tor for the On­tario Hockey League and Toronto Foot­ball Club, Blyth Acad­emy pro­vides flex­i­ble class sched­ules for elite hockey and soc­cer play­ers.

For­mer stu­dent Owen Tip­pet was drafted 10th Over­all in the 2017 NHL En­try Draft to the Florida Pan­thers and is now play­ing for the team at just 18 years old.

Mean­while, swim­ming phe­nom Penny Olek­siak also at­tended one of Blyth’s other cam­puses. For those liv­ing un­der rocks, Olek­siak be­came the youngest Canadian Olympic champ and the first Canadian to win four medals in one Sum­mer games — two bronze, one sil­ver and one gold — at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Dur­ing her bronze 4x100me­tre freestyle re­lay, Olek­siak, along with her team­mate Tay­lor Ruck, achieved some­thing else: the pair be­came the first Olympic medal­lists born in the 21st cen­tury.

No­ble Okello, Rocco Romeo and Ju­lian Dunn are Toronto FC II soc­cer play­ers and cur­rent stu­dents at Blyth. Due to their de­mand­ing train­ing sched­ules, the stu­dents spend the morn­ings train­ing and at­tend class in the af­ter­noons, in ad­di­tion to par­tic­i­pat­ing in an on­line course.

On a typ­i­cal day, the stu­dents will re­port to the train­ing grounds at 8:15 a.m., fin­ish train­ing around 10 a.m., then meet with their coach for a video ses­sion to go over tech­ni­cal and tac­ti­cal per­for­mance points. The stu­dents say teach­ers and staff at Blyth have of­fered them an in­valu­able support sys­tem through­out their time there.

“Blyth is very ac­com­mo­dat­ing for stu­dents. They’re very flex­i­ble with our sched­ules,” Romeo says. “My ex­pe­ri­ence here so far has been tremen­dous; the teach­ers are very open and ap­proach­able.”

In ad­di­tion to Blyth’s on­line acad­emy, which features over 100 on­line cour­ses for stu­dents, the school of­fers a small av­er­age class size of about eight stu­dents per class.

Adam Hurley, prin­ci­pal at Blyth Acad­emy Downsview Park, notes that the school places a high value on cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment where stu­dents have a chance to fol­low their dreams, in­stead of forc­ing them to fit into a cer­tain ed­u­ca­tional mould.

“I find that I hear from par­ents a lot that the pub­lic sys­tem just re­ally views th­ese ath­letic reg­i­mens and com­mit­ments as kind of a detri­ment, where we should be prais­ing and sup­port­ing them as much as we can,” Hurley says.

Blyth Acad­emy is also the sole ed­u­ca­tor for the Chi­nese national hockey pro­gram, which be­gan this year. Currently, 23 stu­dents from the pro­gram are at­tend­ing Blyth to im­prove their hockey skills and pre­pare for the world cham­pi­onships in March. Fif­teen of those stu­dents have come straight from Bei­jing, so English as a sec­ond lan­guage cour­ses and Canadian cul­ture lessons are also on their timeta­bles.

“The pro­gram is coached by Steve Kasper, who played in the NHL for 13 years, coached in the NHL for the Bos­ton Bru­ins and scouted with the Leafs,” Hurley says. “So it’s a re­ally neat pro­gram and the long-term goal is to hope­fully fun­nel some of th­ese kids into the Olympic pro­gram, be­cause Bei­jing is host­ing in 2022, as well as pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for their KHL [Kon­ti­nen­tal Hockey League] team in Bei­jing.”

St. An­drew’s Ju­nior High School at York Mills and Bayview Av­enue is an­other school that aims to support tal­ented youth with its high per­form­ing ath­letes pro­gram. The school, which is within the Toronto District School Board, of­fers flex­i­ble hours to ac­com­mo­date stu­dents with hec­tic sched­ules.

Sarah Pen­der­grast’s daugh­ter Molly is in Grade 7 at St. An­drew’s. She says the school has been a good fit for the long hours Molly spends train­ing in both high-level com­pet­i­tive div­ing and cheer­lead­ing.

“She trains in div­ing 15 hours a week, but she also is a com­pet­i­tive cheer­leader on a level five team this year, so she trains at that about eight hours a week,” Pen­der­grast says. “Molly’s div­ing coach said it might be a good op­tion for her be­cause he could of­fer her a cou­ple of train­ing ses­sions dur­ing the day, which would free Molly up to train in the evening with­out it be­ing su­per stress­ful rush­ing from the pool to the gym.”

Molly’s school hours be­gin at 8:45 a.m. and last un­til ei­ther 11:50 a.m. or 12:40 p.m., mean­ing she doesn’t have to wake up un­rea­son­ably early in or­der to fit class time into her sched­ule. Pen­der­grast says the teach­ers also aim to as­sign home­work at least a week in ad­vance so stu­dents can man­age their time ef­fec­tively.

“We chose to go there [St. An­drew’s] ba­si­cally to al­low her to have the flex­i­bil­ity in her sched­ule and ac­com­mo­date the two sports, but I would have cho­sen it for her even if she was just do­ing div­ing so she can have that af­ter­noon train­ing time. It’s a bit qui­eter,” Pen­der­grast says. “She only started in Septem­ber, but she loved it from the first day.”

Pen­der­grast says Molly’s ul­ti­mate goal for div­ing is to qual­ify for the in­ter­na­tional meet, and for cheer­lead­ing, she and her team will be try­ing out for the Canadian ju­nior team. From the sounds of it, she’s well on her way.

Stu­dents at Blyth Acad­emy have de­mand­ing train­ing sched­ules

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