After living in Fort St. John for the past six months and covering a wide range of sports stories, I like to think that Iíve learned a lot about the community and the people who live in it.
From speed skating to curling, volleyball to hockey (and even rugby now), there arenít many sports I havenít written about or coaches I havenít spoken to.
One thing that has been a big eye opener for me is the state of high school sports in the region and the struggle that young athletes have in this town, and many other remote centres, just to play the sport they love.
I realize now how much Iíve taken my own upbringing for granted and how spoiled I was when it came to athletics living on Vancouver Island. Sure I lived in a small town with a population of around 8,000 growing up, but that small town wasnít far from other towns or other high schools. To get to Victoria or Vancouver it only took us three hours, so we had lots of competition within reach, which made us better players and gave us more opportunities to be seen by university scouts or just enjoy our teenage years like any kid should be able to do.
Here itís clearly a different story, and itís actually quite sad to me. I hate to see kids dropping out of sports because they canít afford to pay over $1,000 just play soccer or volleyball, which are supposed to be two of the cheapest sports that exist. Itís terrible.
The travel costs and lack of competition for students due to Fort St. Johnís geographical location are frankly astounding and quite unfair.
Something has to change.
I spoke to Craig Brownlee, vice principal at North Peace Secondary School, this week and he explained that there is a program called B.C. School Sports thatís does help fund remote schools to assist with travel expenses, but from what I understand they mean well, but the financial aid only covers a fraction of the cost. It barely makes a dent when a team has to pay $30,000 a season just to play other teams.
And to make things worse, extracurricular activities in schools are the first things attacked whenever thereís a budget cut by the Ministry of Education. That might not be so bad for a school in West Vancouver that has access to other facilities and options, but for one in Dawson Creek or Fort St. John it just makes it that much harder for our citiesí youth to play organized sports.
Iím no politician by any means (probably a good thing), but if I were Iíd be pushing for increased funding to help with this problem; Iíd request that the Ministry of Education look into how it divvies up its funding based on geographical settings and need, or suggest they put aside money for schools like North Peace Secondary School so that our students have a more equal playing field when it comes to organized sports.
Do they realize how much it costs the average team to travel to Prince George or Vancouver just once or twice a year, especially considering the terrible, almost immoral costs of flights out of Fort St. John? (For the love of God, West Jet, please come here). Thatís not even counting trips to Grande Prairie.
I donít think a lot of the head honchos at the MOE understand what itís like up here for athletic students Ė†I certainly didnít until I moved here Ė†so maybe someone needs to show them, open their eyes to see how hard it is for a regular kid to be on a team and advance athletically.
Being a volleyball player for seven years gave me some of the happiest times of my life and some of the best friends a person could have. The trips we took, the hotel stays, the ferry rides and tournaments are all things that made me a better person. I couldnít imagine my parents telling me, ďKatie you have to drop out of volleyball, we canít afford it anymore.Ē
I would have been devastated and certainly wouldnít be who I am today.
How is it fair to do that to almost an entire community?
We need to change this, not just for the sake of our cityís youth, but the cityís future.