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Giving kids an outlet a big reason for Wendy Brear's long-time involvement in coaching

'Everybody must belong. So, if we can provide something that is an outlet for that, and of course with it being physically active which is something I’m a big proponent of, well I’m proud that I could have a hand in providing that'

“Rooted” is all about the people and places that make us proud to call our community home.

Connecting with kids outside the classroom is the spot where Wendy Brear found she could really make a difference in the lives of students.

“I got into teaching because I was good with kids and there were great schools here. But what I liked doing best was getting to know kids outside of the classrooms, especially in intermural sports,” says Brear.

For 15 years she was the Elementary Sports Coordinator at the Near North District School Board.

“It’s a volunteer position that I felt very strongly about because you need extracurriculars. Whether your kids are in drama or in music, school is nothing without extracurriculars and I just wanted to see kids involved in something. But personally, nobody wanted to see me sing,” Brear says with a laugh.

Brear took over that role from Karen Waller who she says was instrumental in mentoring her for this position.

“I thought it was so important and I sort of had a good way to connect with troubled kids. I just noticed that they would come alive with the sports activities and I just felt that we really had to ensure that those kids had that option because they weren’t succeeding as well as they could be inside the classrooms.”

Brear says there were several different sports including; cross-country, soccer, and skiing, but there was no budget to help coordinate and organize events.  

Brear says, “We would run tournaments on a Saturday and there were some inter-school competitions going on. But we put in a proposal to the Board to put that into the budget and we now run a pretty good budget for all the area boards.”

She adds there are two reasons for why she feels it’s a big deal to have this set up for students at that age. One is a pure athletics as Brear says, “By grade seven or eight if you haven’t touched a volleyball, you’re not likely to go try out for a team and I think that just got kids excited at that age.”

The second is because it just gives students something to do. She says, “If you have something outside of school, it will more likely keep you on the straight and narrow. I just truly believe that every child should belong to a group or a club. If it’s not a sports team or a drama production, you are going to go find something to belong to and unfortunately, that could be something that isn’t positive. Everybody must belong. So, if we can provide something that is an outlet for that, and of course with it being physically active which is something I’m a big proponent of, well I’m proud that I could have a hand in providing that.”

Brear credits longtime West Ferris Trojans coach Larry Tougas for planting the idea in her head to get involved.

She says that Tougas was coaching her son Spencer in several different sports and every weekend he was picking him up and taking him to a game or a tournament. She says, “That’s just what I knew, that somebody had to coach these kids and so when I was first approached, all of that was in the back of my mind.”

Brear continues, “Jen Weber and I were playing volleyball around 2002 and her daughter was playing as well but her team needed a coach so we said, “sure we’ll do that.” We didn’t know much in terms of what was happening at the high school level because there had been lots of changes, but we asked John Jeffries to give us a little hand, you can’t get a better mentor at volleyball than him, and then we just coached. We coached that girls’ team up until their grade 13 year, took them to Hawaii for a tournament which was pretty cool, and then we moved over to the boys.”

West Ferris had not had a boys volleyball team for the past few decades but Brear says “Charlie Hancock, my son Spencer and Jake Tougas all wanted to get a volleyball team going. So, we said why not put one in and it was the first time Ferris had had one in, I believe, 40 years. My son Jackson started playing in grade seven and so I followed that group all the way through as well. And that group was the first time West Ferris has won a Triple A NOSSA championship in, again I believe forty years, so that was probably my highlight the fact we got a senior boys team to win NOSSA and get to OFSAA. Even after Jackson graduated, I went back and coached for a few years.”

Outside of school organized sports, Brear was also heavily involved in the ball hockey league in town, played out of West Ferris Arena. She says, “That’s another sport I loved, and I did that for 10 years. It was great because you didn’t need equipment and it gave kids something to do in that time between hockey and baseball. And it wasn’t expensive, and I loved that ball hockey was there for those kids.”

Brear says the sports community in North Bay has always been one of its best assets.

She says, “When Tyson started playing football, I thought to myself, well I better learn this game, because he was the quarterback and there’s nothing worse than sitting in the stands as a parent and having no idea what your kid is doing. So, he had a lot of patience with me and helped me learn the sport. But the people in the stands, it was so awesome how crazy people would get about the games. Coming out and cheering on the kids, it would be generations of parents and grandparents watching the games.

Basketball was also a good example. Usually, they would schedule the Christmas game between West Ferris and Chippewa and you could not get a seat in the gym if you did not show up at least an hour early. It was packed to the rafters and that whole experience is something the kids would love. We knew this wasn’t the big leagues, but for our town that was as good as it gets, and you get to appreciate all that’s involved in it when you’re on the other side. The sponsorships, the referees, the volunteers, and bringing all of that together for the kids, our community really got behind all of that.”  

But one unfortunate trend she has noticed is the decline in the interest of sports from both a spectator standpoint and that as a participant. She says,

“When I first coached volleyball I had to cut 20 girls. But my last year coaching boys, I was basically begging students to come and play. I would say, “You’re six feet tall, just stand in front of the net and block the ball,” but I guess that’s just one of the differences in demographics and the fact that we’re sadly down to two high schools, and there are more interests that kids have these days.”

But there are still kids who want to play, and they will always need a coach and Brear says, “It can be tough to find coaches both in the school and in the community because it can be very time-consuming. For anybody to coach, it is a commitment and it should be a commitment because those kids deserve that time and that’s why I would never hold it against somebody who says I don’t have the time. At the senior levels, we would have four practices and two games a week because the level of competition is so tough, and the coaches and the players have to put in that kind of time to compete.”

And she adds “I never claimed to be an expert in anything I coached, I just wanted to ensure that the game went on and that the kids had a team. The thought of having no team because there was no one willing to coach, I just can’t understand that.”

Brear says everything came full circle for her when her sons started to coach as well.

She says, “I have always had a passion for giving back to others, but I was most proud when my kids started to give back and most of that was through coaching as well. Tyson started taking over the head coaching role for the basketball team at West Ferris and I was never prouder of anything he did, than when he was coaching. I think you start to realize that the accolades and the trophies are all okay, but when you see your kids giving back to others, that’s a moment you just cherish.”

“Giving back is critical and if anything, I’m glad I did my small little bit so that my kids know that they can do the same thing moving forward. And why not do it in athletics?”

If you have a story suggestion for the “Rooted” series, send Matt an email at [email protected]

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Matt Sookram

About the Author: Matt Sookram

Matthew Sookram is a Canadore College graduate. He has lived and worked in North Bay since 2009 covering different beats; everything from City Council to North Bay Battalion.
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