HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
While returning from a recent field trip to Madawaska with her North Dundas District High School class, Emma Acres noticed her cell phone was ringing.
She was reluctant to answer the call. The name on the screen said Cathy Overton-Clapham, one of Canada’s most decorated women’s curlers. Acres, who represented the R.C.M.P. Curling Club and skipped Ontario at the Canadian U18 women’s curling championship this spring, certainly recognized the name.
But she thought it was a scam call and was hesitant. Why would the 2008 world champion and five-time Scotties national champion want to talk to her? But her friend, who was sitting on the bench seat beside Acres, quickly convinced her to take the call as she didn’t see any harm.
Anxiousness quickly transformed into quiet jubilation as Overton-Clapham informed Acres she had been selected as one of the six Spirit of Sandra Scholars for 2022. But she had to keep it quiet until the Sandra Schmirler Foundation had sent out the press release.
“I’m very glad my best friend told me to answer the phone,” Acres said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “I answered, said hello and I recognized her voice right away. She told me I had won a scholarship.”
The Sandra Schmirler Foundation announced earlier this month that Acres, sisters Bella and Piper Croisier of Sudbury, Hannah Gargul of Pointe Claire, Que., Madison Kleiter of Saskatoon, and Alison Umlah of Dartmouth, N.S., had been named Spirit of Sandra Scholars and would each receive a $5,000 scholarship.
The scholarship money would be split equally between education and curling expenses for the coming 2022-23 academic year and athletic season. Acres will attend Queen’s University in the fall to study in the concurrent education program. She plans to graduate with Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Education degrees, leading to a career teaching math and physics.
An honour roll student, Acres carries a 97-per-cent academic average in Grade 12 and has earned a $4,000 entrance scholarship for admission to Queen’s.
“I had tears in my eyes when she told me. I couldn’t believe I had won. My hard work on the ice and at school paid off for such a prestigious scholarship,” Acres added. “It was weird how it happened, on a bus.”
As part of her application, Acres plans to stage a Webinar fundraising presentation, where the general public can make a donation and ask questions to notable Canadian curlers. She hopes to raise $10,000.
Acres and the other five scholars also will receive mentoring from Overton-Clapham and Ottawa’s Lisa Weagle, a three-time world and Canadian champion and a 2018 and 2022 Olympian. Overton-Clapham is the Spirit of Sandra Scholar program mentor.
The Spirit of Sandra Scholarships started in 2013 and student/curlers are marked on their application submissions, athletic results and academic achievements. Schmirler, who died in 2000 at age 36 from cancer, won three world and Canadian titles and the 1998 Olympic gold medal.
The Sandra Schmirler Foundation has raised almost $6 million in more than 20 years for more than 80 hospitals. The money is earmarked to buy life-saving equipment for premature and critically ill babies in Canada.
“It was definitely a great honour,” Acres continued. “I did cry a little, when I learned I was one of the six scholars. It’s a great opportunity. In my curling career, I’ve always looked up to the scholars. That’s a big thing because it means you’ve done something. It’s a dream come true.”
During their 2021-22 curling season, Acres, third/sister Ava Acres, second Liana Flanagan, lead Mya Sharpe and alternate Aila Thompson sat at 3-3 in pool play before winning their final four preliminary and playoff games to capture the Ontario girls’ U18 championship.
At the Canadian championship in Oakville, ON., the Acres rink completed its pool competition at 3-3 for fourth place, but missed the championship-round playoffs.
“Our goal was to get to provincials and we exceeded that,” Acres said. “The nationals were the hardest and we didn’t get to the championship round, but it was still a highlight. Winning the (Spirit of Sandra) scholarship was a highlight of my season.”
When Acres moves to Kingston, she’ll continue curling, but with a new rink. She has recruited three other Queen’s University-based players for their U21-level rink. Her teammates will be Makayla McMullin of Ottawa, Kate Phillips of London, ON., and Emily Parkinson of Toronto.
“We have a rough schedule and hope to play one tournament a month along with practising on the side and schoolwork,” Acres said. “My sister’s team will play a little more, probably two tournaments a month because of qualifiers.”
Emma Acres also is in the process of finding a new coach. Phil Mainville, who has coached at the U18 level for the past eight years, is stepping away because of the time required to attend competitions, practices and league games.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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