By Dan Plouffe
An ever-present face will be missing come next year’s Ottawa high school sports championships. Laura Gillespie, who’s held the coordinator post for the national capital association for seven years, is just days away from retirement, although she says it doesn’t feel like that’s the case at all.
“I’m too busy,” smiles Gillespie, whose association is hosting the OFSAA girls’ rugby championships June 4-6 at Twin Elm Rugby Park. “I’m not counting down at all.”
In a challenging position that she likens to being a principal and vice-principal in one, Gillespie says some of the memories she appreciates most include times where coaches came forward in trying circumstances and were honest about situations even if it wasn’t to their benefit.
“I just have so much respect for those people because they really embody what high school sports is all about – the sportsmanship and the honesty,” Gillespie explains.
And despite the heavy workload involved, the OFSAA provincial championships hosted locally stick out as major highlights as well.
“You get to see the best of the best, and the kids at their best,” Gillespie notes. “When kids win, at the moment, that’s their Olympics. It’s the peak for most of them in their athletic career at the high school level, and you know they’re never going to forget that.”
The Merivale High School grad played whatever sport was offered in each season in her own athletic career. She then taught at St. Patrick High School for 21 years, coaching track and basketball primarily, plus a little bit of volleyball, touch football and wherever else holes needed to be filled.
Gillespie chaired the national capital association’s board of reference for a dozen years and was president of the association for two terms before taking on one of two coordinator roles full-time.
Her colleague for this year, John Labrosse, is also retiring one school is out. Rick Mellor, who filled the position for two years before returning to Nepean High School this year, will return to the post along with another person still to be chosen.
Gillespie is sure the association “is in good hands,” judging by the individuals she interacts with on a regular basis.
“I really, really love that I’ve got to meet and know more people in the association – athletic directors, coaches, convenors – I’m really impressed with the commitment of those people,” Gillespie highlights. “I’ve loved every moment of my career, I’ve loved being the coordinator, but there always comes a time when you’re ready for a change.”
Priority #1 for Gillepie will be some rest and relaxation, plus all kinds of projects the 55-year-old has in mind for her wooded property in the country near Kemptville.
“I often get, ‘You’re too young to retire,’” Gillespie adds. “They say, ‘You can’t go yet, you have too much energy.’
“And I say, ‘All the more reason to go.’”