By Martin Cleary
Grace Streek stood in the pack of girls’ junior cross-country runners Tuesday, waiting for the start of her National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association West Conference championship race.
She reacted appropriately to the starting signal, ran her race over the Mooney’s Bay course and finished the 4.8-kilometre test in second place. It was a good prep meet for her, heading into next week’s NCSSAA championships, which will qualify the top individuals and schools for the OFSAA provincial high school finals.
Running is a happy time for Streek, 15, who is passionate about going the distance, whether it’s overcoming obstacles on a challenging cross-country course or tackling a 3,000-metre race in track and field.
But Streek is also a dedicated competitive hockey player for the Nepean Wildcats U18A team this season. And as a way of developing her hockey skills while maintaining her high school studies, she enrolled in September at Peak Centre Academy, a private school in Kanata that caters to high-performance athletes in conjunction with its academic arm.
The switch to being a Grade 10 student at Peak after experiencing Grade 9 at Merivale High School, however, almost left her out in the cold, when it came to participating in any high school sports for the 2022-23 interscholastic season.
By moving schools and wanting to continue playing varsity sports, she became a transfer student, which under the NCSSAA and OFSAA bylaws meant she would have to sit out a 12-month period before she could represent Peak as a varsity runner in both associations.
In September, Peak applied for and received status for its students to attend and compete in NCSSAA and OFSAA sports. But at the end of the month, Streek learned she was denied the opportunity to represent Peak in cross-country running and track and field next spring because she was a transfer student.
This unexpected decision didn’t sit well with the Streek family, which decided to move their three children – Grace and Evan, 13, who also attended Merivale last year, and Clair, 12, who was at Sir Winston Churchill Public School for 2021-22 – to Peak Centre Academy for its focused approach to education with small class sizes and a dedicated emphasis on fitness.
The OFSAA transfer policy is based on a 1986 decision to prevent high school coaches recruiting top student-athletes and forming powerhouse teams.
“Unfortunately, the policy has been applied to all team and individual athletes, which is a blunt and discriminatory application,” Tim Streek, who is Grace’s father, wrote in an email as he took up the cause against the 12-month athletic suspension of his daughter.
“It violates an individual/family’s Charter right to choice of education by penalizing them from moving schools. It goes against NCSSAA and OFSAA’s own mission and values in allowing students to flourish through sport. And it will have a negative impact on Grace’s mental health.”
The NCSSAA denied the appeal by the Streeks as it was following its own bylaws. Tim Streek asked the NCSSAA to forward his appeal to OFSAA, but he was denied a chance to speak at an Oct. 6 hearing. The next meeting was Nov. 3, which would be after the NCSSAA cross-country season had been completed.
But they were able to appeal to the NCSSAA a second time under a different category and Grace was reinstated on Oct. 7 and has been allowed to participate in varsity sports wearing Peak colours for the 2022-23 season.
Grace won the appeal because she transferred to Peak from Merivale before the start of her Grade 10 year for “exceptional personal, social or academic reasons.”
“We are especially grateful that Grace’s appeal has been accepted by NCSSAA and she has been approved to compete in OFSAA-sanctioned events this year,” Tim Streek wrote in another email.
“To be clear, Grace’s appeal form was more accurately attributed to a different appeal category than what we originally submitted it for. With a resubmission, the appeal was granted by the NCSSAA. And for that, accompanied by the grace and patience from those involved, we express our thanks.”
During this transfer exercise, Grace continued to run on the high school cross-country circuit this fall – placing second in the Ottawa Capital XC Challenge and winning the St. Michael’s High School Turkey Trot and the Louis-Riel Rebelles Invitational.
In the end, there was a lesson to be learned and a possible opportunity to review and revise the transfer policy.
“We used this very disappointing experience to demonstrate to Grace that some things are worth fighting for,” Tim Streek wrote in an email interview with High Achievers.
“But you need to fight for them with grace and respect. The pen is mightier than the sword. But we also made it clear that right doesn’t always win and there was no guarantee that her appeal would be supported.”
Grace was elated with the decision to allow her to participate in the major NCSSAA cross-country races, which will lead to an OFSAA championship for Ottawa runners for the first time since 2019.
“That is all she wanted to do. Running has become the cornerstone of her mental health and daily positivity. She has worked hard to be ready and now she is free to compete,” added Tim, a founding and former member of the Ottawa Sport Council who has offered to help review, sharpen and update the 36-year-old high school transfer policy.
“Her final desire is to be a part of changing this policy so that future athletes are not at risk of being benched because of a family education decision.”
Here are the top three individuals and teams from the NCSSAA West Conference cross-country running championships at Mooney’s Bay:
Novice (4,050 metres)
- Naomi Lofthouse (St. Mark), 16 minutes, 37.83 seconds
- Tillie Pender (Nepean), 16:40.14
- Naomi LeBlanc (St. Pius X), 17:03.05
Teams: 1. South Carleton (57 placement points), 2. Nepean (74), 3. Merivale 97.
Junior (4,800 metres)
- Isabella Chiumera (St. Pius X), 18:09
- Grace Streek (Peak Centre Academy), 19:11
- Bridget Jeffrey (St. Francis), 19:50
Teams: 1. Nepean 38, 2. St. Mark 63, John McCrae 74.
Senior (6,050 metres)
- Amelia Van Brabant (Earl of March), 23:45.21
- Jocelyn Giannotti (Holy Trinity), 24:41.99
- Simran Sarai (West Carleton), 25:54.51
Teams: 1. Merivale 38, 2. Longfields-Davidson Heights 83, 3. Nepean 90.
Novice (4,050 metres)
- Jackson McKercher (John McCrae), 14:21
- Nathaniel Moons (Nepean), 14:36
- Adam Yakimuch (John McCrae), 14:46
Teams: 1. Nepean 36, 2. John McCrae 64, 3. West Carleton 81.
Junior (4,800 metres)
- Levi Sankey (Merivale), 17:30.93
- Barrett Goold (Sir Robert Borden), 17:31.96
- Ian Milne (John McCrae), 17:44.42
Teams: 1. John McCrae 35, 2. Earl of March 71, 3. St. Paul 75.
Senior (6,050 metres)
- Zachary Kushner (Bell), 21:23.71
- William Sanders (St. Mother Teresa), 21:30.84
- Matias Del Rio Reategui (St. Joseph), 21:45.65
Teams: 1. Bell 35, 2. St. Mother Teresa 60, 3. Nepean 81.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 High Achievers “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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