FROM THE START

 

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IN the fall of 2004, with the help of a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the
Markham Speed Skating Club began a program called FROM THE START to introduce
speed skating to about one thousand grade 4 and 5 students in several schools of the
York Region District School Board in Markham over two years.

This comprehensive program has four elements:

  1. a multimedia presentation, covering many aspects of speed skating,
    is shown to each class during one period
  2. dry-land speed skating exercises are taught during a gym class
  3. speed skating experience is acquired during two hours on the ice
  4. tales of international competition are heard in person from a world-
    class speed skater.

The program began with an opening ceremony at Markham Gateway Public School on
September 28 2004 in front of the three classes of grade 4 students who were going to participate.
A distinguished group of people were present:

  • Virginia Dawson, school principal
  • John Pugsley, Program Manager, Ontario Trillium Foundation, York and Simcoe Regions
  • Don Cousens, Mayor of Markham
  • Glenn Taylor, Facilities Manager, Town of Markham
  • Dawn Currie, Sport Development Director, Speed Skating Canada
  • Eli Lee, Development Director, Ontario Speed Skating Association
  • Roger Buxton, President, Markham Speed Skating Club
  • Ron Blackwell, Coach, Markham Speed Skating Club.
  After the introduction by Virginia Dawson, Roger Buxton described the
program, and he was followed by Mayor Cousens who emphasized how
lucky the students were to have this opportunity. Eli Lee explained how clubs
in Ontario train skaters and host competitions, and Dawn Currie discussed how
clubs nuture skating talent to become future national team members and
international champions. The project formally began when John Pugsley started
a simulated race with two of the Club’s members (see photograph).


Photograph courtesy of the Markham Economist and Sun.

  To keep the number of skaters on the ice within safe limits,
each class is split into halves, with one half skating while the
other half uses an indoor soccer field. After one hour, the
groups switch for a second hour.

Each student spends a total of two hours on the ice
during two visits to the arena.
  The program has been designed with both novice and
experienced skaters in mind to inform them and encourage
them to take up the sport.

At least two instructors teach the students when they
are on the ice, resulting in frequent personal interaction
to help them adapt to the equipment and techniques of
speed skating. Students are given the opportunity to learn
according to their abilities and preferences. Some choose
to learn by themselves, while others choose to learn in groups.
  Cooperation and respect amongst the students is encouraged,
regardless of level of skill and previous skating experience.
Most students learn quickly, and jump at the opportunity to race
even after just one hour of experience. Almost all the students
improve rapidly. Above all, the experience is made to be fun.
  The response from all the participants has been very positive.
Likewise, the teachers and principals have commended the
program, saying that the students gain self-esteem from trying something new.

Photographs courtesy of Markham Gateway Public School

Overland Kevin Overland, a medalist in the 500 metre long track speed skating event at the 1998
Olympic Winter Games held in Nagano, Japan,
and currently a coach for members of the
national team, came from Calgary, Alberta, to speak to almost all the students in each of
five schools. He told of his experiences
growing up and speed skating as a boy in Ontario,
of the unique thrills of participating in the Olympic Games, and of the
value of the lasting
friendships he made. He described how he had not been exceptional in any sport until he
decided he really wanted to skate well, and that anyone can be an Olympian if they try
really hard. His message, and his humble yet confident demeanour, enthralled his audiences,
such that they patiently waited to ask questions, to see and feel his medal, and to obtain
autographs. He clearly had a big impact on the students and teachers alike: in the words
of one teacher, "It is important for our young people to have contact with role models and
Canadian heroes, such as Kevin. Each student has within him/her the ability to be the best
that he/she can be, but it only happens through dedication and hard work. Kevin delivered
that message well."

Photograph courtesy of
Stonebridge Public School.
The project relies on many volunteers who instruct the students on the ice and assist with their skates. Their participation is greatly appreciated.

 

Markham Speed Skating Club