The province of Rick Hansen and Terry Fox should be doing better to involve para athletes in school competition, writes Carmen Farrell.
HO / THE CANADIAN PRESS
OPINION: BCTFA needs to support all its athletes by identifying, recruiting and developing athletes with disabilities and embody the values of diversity and inclusion in high school teamsThe B.C. High School Track and Field Association says: “Sport can be a powerful vehicle for the development of human well-being.” The other part of its mission statement reads: “Our goal is to make the sport of track and field attainable and affordable to all high school athletes in British Columbia ….”But not if you are an athlete with physical disabilities. If you are one of those athletes, your school coach was told by the BCTFA in early April, after the season had started, that there was “no need” to include para events at the zone championship level because the BCTFA had done away with para events at the upcoming B.C. High School Track and Field Championships. Why? “Poor participation.” And then in the next breath, congratulating themselves for integrating Special Olympic events.Fair enough. I have no interest in my Grade 11 son with a significant muscular neurological disability earning bronze in a field of three. That has no dignity. And I think it’s wonderful that able-bodied students with intellectual disabilities (Special O) will have a viable path to participate and compete alongside their school teammates. They should.I understand that the BCTFA is a dedicated group of educators volunteering their time to create opportunities for kids. But the way the BCTFA is going about this is all wrong. Asking a para athlete to run with a Special O athlete is like asking a Grade 8 boy to run with a Grade 11 girl. The BCTFA would never do that because the two are not competitive. Similarly, if there weren’t enough junior boys competing at the provincial level, the BCTFA wouldn’t eliminate the entire junior division after the season had already started with no consultation. They’d have identified a problem and worked to recruit more athletes.If you’re on the executive of the BCTFA, maybe you don’t think of kids with physical disabilities as true athletes. It’s OK to add and subtract events from year to year at will, with no idea of whether there are athletes to compete. It’s OK to hold hurried and unannounced medal ceremonies in the dark corridor of the grandstand, out of the public eye, as happened last year.My son’s coaches have always been uncommonly welcoming, and this year ignored the directive of the BCTFA. I am extremely grateful for the myriad of opportunities they have provided my child to train hard and compete well with his teammates since Grade 8. That is the purpose of high school sport … train and compete. At the North Shore Zone Championships at Swangard on May 14, he had the chance to run his races with his teammates. I’m afraid in B.C. this year, he was the exception and not the rule.But it gets worse. B.C. has one of the lowest participation rates in Canada for the inclusion of para athletes in high school athletics. When the BCTFA values winning over teaching, the values of training, competition, sportsmanship and character development, poor choices follow. A “good enough” mentality pervades for athletes with disabilities whose performance doesn’t count for school standing as it does for junior and senior athletes.The solution is not to give up and do away with opportunity. Under the current BCTFA leadership, athletes with physical disabilities are not experiencing “well being.” In the province of Terry Fox and Rick Hansen, we can do much better for our next generation. The BCTFA needs to support all its athletes by identifying, recruiting and developing athletes with disabilities and embody the values of diversity and inclusion in high school teams.Carmen Farrell is executive director of the Social Emotional Empathy Development Society in North Vancouver.Letters to the editor should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. The editorial pages editor is Gordon Clark, who can be reached at email@example.com.CLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.