Making the grade on the field

School sports have many meanings

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Ian Langdon will never forget the moment. It was a high kick and he caught it cleanly. Suddenly, Ian - outside centre and captain of The Country Day School, in King City, Ontario, under-14 rugby team - was all on his own. Except for two opposing fullbacks.

"They both charged me. I started running to the left and then cut right. I burned them!" Past them, he had a clean run, and plonked the ball down for a try. Beautiful!

Parents like to think they pick their kids' school for the science program, the French or the math. Ask the kids and what's most important to them often is the sports.

And the most intense memories usually revolve around inter-school sports rivalries that seem to go on decade after decade.

"Our badminton team beat St. Clement's this year!" crows Haining Gouinlock, 15, a member of the winning Bishop Strachan School team. "And we always come second. It was so nice, beating them by, like, only one game!"

At Country Day School, in King City, Ontario, they've seen the enemy - and it is St. Andrew's College, from nearby Aurora. "They are so good," says Bryn Davies, a member of last year's under-14 rugby team. "We've been overpowered by them. But," he adds spiritedly, "we almost beat them once."

And in that game, Bryn, whose father played rugby back home in Wales, had his personal triumph: "I was the kicker, and I made all the kicks (good) for that game."

Of course, we're always told winning's not the thing. But, as Haining says, it's "so nice" to win.

School sport, in fact, has so many meanings.

It's escapism: "If things aren't going well, it's a great way to forget about them and focus on something else," says 10-year-old David Woodruff, a student at Sterling Hall who plays Ultimate, a fast-paced Frisbee game that combines elements of football and basketball.

"Yeah," says Susannah, 11, one of three Gouinlock sisters who attend Bishop Strachan. "I always look forward to sports. It gives me a break from sitting at my desk and thinking. It gives me a chance to get out and run around."

And, hey, you get time off. "If you're on one of the teams, you get whole days off," says Susannah's 13-year-old sister, Stephanie, a talented distance runner.

"But," mother Susan Gouinlock points out, "I think most girls in sports do well in school."

Girls at Bishop Strachan, like those at most independent schools, have a sports or gym period nearly every day, and Susan Gouinlock couldn't be more pleased.

"The best thing you can do is keep girls in team sports," she says. Haining confirms the social aspect: "I have a lot of fun playing badminton, and I met a lot of people that way - girls older than myself, too."

It may be a lot of fun, but students are also learning more subtle lessons on the sports field.

"(Rugby) is a good team sport," says Ian. "You have to co-operate really well to make it work. I've learned so much sport here (at Country Day School)," he adds. "I never played rugby or basketball before I came here."

Ruthann Gairdner, 19, who graduated from Country Day School and has headed to the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, looks back on six years of soccer and track, of wins and losses and laughter with friends. "I loved the experiences and I loved meeting people," she says.

Her biggest lesson from sport? "I learned patience. And now that I'm a bit older, I'm excited and happy for the Grade 9s, who are new and just learning."

Mark Burleigh, a phys ed teacher who coaches senior girls basketball, hoops and under-16 boys hoops and under-14 boys rugby at The Country Day School, says classroom and sports field activities in fact complement each other.

"The way they treat each other in the hallways and the way they take on challenges are all related - whether it's how to tackle a mathematical problem or how to deal with a zone press."

And then there are the memories. "I remember my very first (softball) game," says Susannah. "I was put up for pitching, and I pitched it so high everyone laughed. It was kind of funny - and I laughed, too. But after that I learned to do it."

Last summer, Susannah was one of four girls at an otherwise all-boys baseball camp at Upper Canada College - and won the hit, run, throw contest.

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