By Ottawa Sportspage, For Louis-Riel Rebelles
There are some days on the job where veteran teacher Sherry Polomark just wants to jump off a cliff.
Most teaching roles don’t include the chance to escape a heatwave by taking the plunge into the fresh lake water below, but Polomark isn’t part of your average school, and the organizer of the exploratory sports program at Louis-Riel secondary school wouldn’t have it any other way.
“What a great outdoor experience,” Polomark recounts of the overnight trip she’s led in recent years to Camp Air-Eau-Bois, north of Gatineau Park, for Louis-Riel’s middle school students. “It’s a ton of fun.”
The leadership camp provides the traditional kickoff to the Louis-Riel exploratory sports program – always held near the start of the school year to help build friendships, camaraderie and teamwork from the start.
“A school classroom is like a family,” explains Polomark, a teacher of 15 years at Louis-Riel – her own alma mater. “You’re there for 6 years, so you need to create a good atmosphere for the kids to enjoy.”
Featuring problem-solving exercises and camping with the bare necessities come Grade 8, the outdoors camp is just one component of “sports-exploratoires.”
There are monthly outings to try less common sports, such as rowing, curling, trampoline, wrestling or sport stacking.
“Introducing different skills and sports is a really good idea,” outlines Polomark, noting the program follows long-term athlete development principles. “By training in a range of sports, you’re developing a lot of the abilities to be a better-rounded athlete.”
Home to the innovative sports-study program at the high school level, Louis-Riel has become a leader in helping student-athletes maximize their athletic and academic abilities. Their philosophy includes phys ed classes every day.
Members of the exploratory sports program also choose a favourite sport to follow each semester. On Wednesdays, they’ll train in their chosen sport under Louis-Riel’s exceptional cast of coaches.
There are ongoing skill development and education sessions with specialists as well, such as yoga instruction, and a physical training introduction from the school’s strength coach.
“It’s the continuity of it that’s really valuable. It’s not just that we have a week of this and then we’re done,” underlines Polomark. “Long-term, some of the students will become elite athletes. The building blocks we provide can help make that possible, while everyone benefits from the increased confidence they get to participate in physical activity.”
Louis-Riel also embraces the training requirements of high-performance athletes, allowing those individuals the opportunity to practice their sport in the afternoon outside of school, thus opening up their evenings for family, friends, homework or rest.
The low-cost program has proven exceptionally popular, with over two-thirds of Louis-Riel’s middle school population electing to take part in it. That enthusiasm is ever-present, whether in the school hallways on a daily basis, or when leaping through the air into the cool water below.
“I’ve got a pretty good job here. I love it,” smiles Polomark, a former national-level fastpitch player herself. “It’s as fun for me as it is for them.”