A high-school teacher in Perth, Ont., quietly coached his boys basketball teams for months in spite of his union's directive to abandon extracurriculars, and is glad he can now continue officially after teachers were given the choice to do so.
Kevin Bellamy, a teacher at Perth and District Collegiate Institute for the last 16 years, went to the same high school himself.
"I grew up there. My family was raised there, and it's just a wonderful place to raise kids. My wife and I have two boys now, in Grade 5 and Grade 7," Bellamy said.
He used to play guard when he was a teen, then played for the provincial team and competed for Queen's and Dalhousie universities.
But he settled back in Perth to raise a family, teach and coach at the high school.
Bellamy devastated by union directive
Ten months of the year, his students come to practice at 6:50 a.m. The teams also travel as much as they can to develop their competitive skills.
"I'm at what I would consider the extreme end of the coaching spectrum, which means it's a huge part of my life and my family's life, and we practice and train all year round," Bellamy said.
"When you're in the Perth community and trying to play at a provincial level, it's a huge challenge."
In the fall of 2012, when secondary school teachers were directed by their union — the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation — to stop extracurricular activities, Bellamy said he was devastated. The league was cancelled, and players he'd been working with for years stood to lose the season.
"I don't know what the word is, but it was awful. It was probably the hardest thing professionally that I've had to go through … It was devastating," Bellamy said.
Bellamy said that while he didn't agree with the policy, he understood.
Decided to continue coaching
But he decided not to stop coaching. The students didn't wear the school uniforms and they didn't play in the building while teachers were present, out of respect, Bellamy said.
Pavit Thind is one of those students. He said he came back to high school for a fifth year, just to play basketball.
"We weren't surprised," Thind said about Bellamy's decision to continue. "Coach always says other than his family, we're his second family, and we all feel the same way, too. Basketball means so much to us."
Other teachers at the school didn't protest, Bellamy said.
"There was no reaction in person to me," Bellamy said of his colleagues. "I know it hurt … but I wasn't trying to cause any problems. I was trying to be respectful to everybody."
After Christmas, Bellamy decided to move forward with the basketball program in a bigger way, and said the union didn't contact him about it.
"It was very hard. Every day, it hurt," Bellamy said. "I am the least political person in the world and every morning I read online about the situation and about was happening.
"As much as I didn't like what was going on and how much it affected all of us, it worked in terms of public support, and I really felt like January was a perfect opportunity to move on from that and plan a different thing and let us have what I've been describing back," he said.
Two weeks ago, the OSSTF announced that teachers can run extracurriculars if they want to, and Bellamy continues to coach basketball.