Ontario athletes playing in U.S. during teachers' protest

Two Windsor high school basketball players are suiting up for U.S. prep schools while public school teachers continue their protest in Ontario.

Some public school teachers still not volunteering for extracurricular activities in protest of imposed contract

A pair of basketball players from Windsor, Ont., has chosen to play in the U.S. while public school teachers continue to protest in Ontario. 2:22

Uncertainty about whether there would be a full high school basketball season this school year made a tough decision easier for Herman student athlete Marko Kovac.

The 6'5" power forward will join teammate Tyler Storie at a prep school in the U.S.

Kovac and Storie will join Iowa's Kingdom Prep Academy. The school is nine hours west of Windsor but plays mainly tournaments on the road.

Kovac has only paid for a flight to Iowa, so far. He said the school is not charging him tuition. Kovac said he is receiving tutoring in preparation for the SATs, which students need to pass to enroll in U.S. colleges.

It's an opportunity Kovac may not have taken had the public school teachers' labour dispute with the province not happened.

Some public school teachers have withdrawn their services from extracurricular activities. The move is in protest to Bill 115, which the province repealed earlier this month, and a government-imposed contract.

Herman will host this year's Ontario Federation of Schools Athletic Association basketball championship, so the team is guaranteed a spot in the tournament.

However, with only three public high schools in the area choosing to play in the local Windsor Essex County Secondary Schools Athletic Association league, Kovac said his coach encouraged him to get the exposure available with an American team.

"He really stressed the importance of me choosing the other opportunity because I'd be playing in front of 50 Division I coaches a night instead of maybe two or three locally," Kovac said.

Herman's athletic director Dillon Lanspeary and head coach Matt Loebach discussed the move and in the absence of clear rules, decided it would be best for the kids to play in the U.S.

Kovac and Storie will play in the National Prep Invitational Tournament in Rhode Island later this week. It's part of the Kingdom Prep Academy's national schedule. Storie couldn't be reached for comment. He was already on the road.

Kovac said he has drawn the attention of several Division I schools since he started playing in the States.

'Major issue'

The Herman athletes' situation is a first locally. Some sports officials are concerned other high school athletes will follow Kovac's and Storie's example.

"This is a major issue now in front of the OFSAA sport advisory council in regards to kids playing basketball for grades 9, 10, and 11, going to prep school in the States, and then coming back to their original school," said Mike Makitrick of the Windsor Essex County Schools Athletic Association.

There are no rules against it, but Makitrick said it could set precedent.

He said the governing body, OFSAA, has been looking into similar situations in other cities and new rules could be coming soon.

Lanspeary said this will give other student athletes a push to try a similar move. He's confident it won't cause a mass exodus.

"These are talented athletes. They are very skilled. You can't just go and play in the States," he said. "Its fantastic. I'm very happy for them and it's great for our school."

The door hasn't been closed on the local and provincial season for Kovac and Storie. Both would be eligible to play at this year's provincial championship.

The duo played the minimum number of games for Herman that allows them to qualify for the OFSAA championship, but Loebach thought it would be unethical to let them play for both teams for the rest of the season or until WECSSAA had a clear rule on what they're doing.

Herman still means a lot to Kovac and his family. He's still getting his education from Herman and not Kingdom Prep Academy.

"My parents, my brother, just stressed the importance of graduating from Herman and coming from Herman," he said.