National Sport School student says endangered program is 'not a want, it's a need'

Max Stretch is a Grade 12 student at the National Sport School who spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday about how the closure or relocation of the program could impact its students — and the future of young athletes in Canada.

Max Stretch speaks about potential impact of school's closure, relocation

Max Stretch is a Grade 12 student at the National Sport School who spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener about how the closure or relocation of the program could affect its students. (Photo supplied by Max Stretch)

After provincial budget cuts dealt the Calgary Board of Education a $32-million shortfall, parents and student athletes at the National Sport School were notified the program faces relocation or closure when its lease with WinSport expires.

The school is designed to provide a flexible schedule for promising student athletes so they can train and study effectively. 

The school has leased space from WinSport at Canada Olympic Park since 2011, to the tune of $100,000 a year. 

In a presentation to families and staff in November, the CBE announced that when the lease expires in June 2020, the program would either move to a regular school, likely nearby Bowness High, or close altogether.

The announcement prompted a strong response from students, who started an online petition to keep it open, and WinSport has offered to lease the space for the 2020-21 school year for $1.

Max Stretch is a former ski jumper who is in Grade 12 at the school. Though his tenure there is drawing to a close, the student council member says he wants a dialogue between the CBE and the school about ways to keep it open at Canada Olympic Park.

Stretch spoke to the Calgary Eyeopener on Friday to share a firsthand perspective on how the closure or relocation could impact the students — and the future of young athletes in Canada.

The transcript below has been edited for clarity and length.

Q: How has the mood been at the school since this news came down?

A: I would say it's been pretty sombre. All the students — especially Grades 9, 10 and 11 — are worried about what their future is looking like, because they're not sure where they're going to be going to school, or if they're going to be able to stay in sport to pursue education. And the teachers are also having a tough time, because their professional careers are also at stake.

Q: Tell me about your own situation. How did you come to the school in the first place?

A: I was a ski jumping athlete for eight years, and I was missing school months at a time. Regular school just wasn't an option for me, and I needed the flexibility that the sport school provides. Without it, I don't think I'd be here in Grade 12 right now — or I wouldn't have ski jumped for as long as I did.

Q: The ski jump is no longer open, so you're not jumping anymore?

A: No, not anymore. But I'm still here to support it in any way that I can, because the school is absolutely amazing.

Max Stretch was a ski jumper until the jumps closed at Canada Olympic Park. (Photo supplied by Max Stretch)

Q: You're in Grade 12, so you're graduating, you're getting on with your life, and yet you're here talking to me in studio about the importance of the school. Why is that?

A: The school has helped me tremendously throughout the years, and the support system that the school has is just absolutely incredible. We have a sports psychologist on staff that helps students with sleep, or how to cope with the stresses of sport and school.

And then, of course, the wonderful teachers who are there. Even when I was away on trips, all hours of the day, opposite time zones, they were there to respond in 20 minutes to my questions about schoolwork that I had. 

Q: Do you think we could be losing some future Olympians as a result of the school potentially closing?

A: Oh, completely. What I've heard from a lot of students, and Olympians as well, is that without the school, they would have had to choose between education and sport. And I'm not sure that's a precedent that we want to set in Canada — where athletes are going into the world uneducated, or they have to give up their passion to pursue education. And I don't think it's fair for them to have to choose.

Q: A closure is the worst case scenario, but there is a relocation option — away from WinSport. What would that mean for the school and the program?

A: The students would be relocated to Bowness, but not necessarily with all the programs that WinSport has in place at our current facility. The students would be, for the most part, integrated into regular classes. Really, the only main advantage is that the students would stay together.

Q: You're on student council, which collected letters of support for the school. What did you hear on that front?

A: It was like a broken record playing over and over again. Just hearing these student athletes say, "We need this school at WinSport, and it's meant so much to me, please don't close down this school." Because this school is not a want, it's a need. These student athletes need this school.

Q: What about your future? You've already got your plans laid out for post-secondary?

A: I'm looking at the University of Calgary, and then I'm also applying in a few places down East, and we're still looking, keeping our options open. Without the National Sport School, I don't think I would be applying to many of the places that I am today.

Q: It was that integral to your education?

A: They've always been there to support me, through all of my competitions, through all the ups and downs of sport.

We just ask the CBE to sit down with the National Sport School and look at an Option C, which allows the NSS to stay at WinSport. Because I know there's a few ideas floating around on how we can cut major costs in the program, and we're just looking for the CBE's ear and to collaboratively work with them. 

The Calgary Board of Education told parents in November that it might have to shut down the National Sport School. (CBC)

With files from Colleen Underwood and the Calgary Eyeopener


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