The passion, pride and emotional support were all crystal clear.
An expression of powerful feeling radiated through the mind of students at Lorne Park Secondary School – and it was quickly followed by a commitment, by student leaders, to support inclusion and eliminate homophobia and trash talk in team dressing rooms and on the playing field.
Teenage team captains, from all Winter sports, at the Mississauga school – one known for excellence in competitive games – pledged to use sport and education to speak about athletes' talents, not their gender identity.
It was Phase Two of a three-prong project with team leaders of Fall Sports launching the campaign earlier in the school year, and those in Spring sports set to do their part in the months to come.
"At Lorne Park, you are valuable and you can be who you want to be," said Greg Kelly, who has taught Special Education for 13 years, coached sports teams, and is the individual behind launching theYou Can Play project at the Mississauga school.
"It's very clear (at Lorne Park), that to play on school sports teams, students are evaluated by the challenges of talent and effort. Awareness is important and everyone is valuable regardless of gender or sexuality."
The reinforcement came in a signing ceremony that followed a compelling presentation by Emily Scheck, now a student and cross country/track athlete at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. Scheck was invited to Lorne Park to share her experience and students learned more about her than just sport, but the importance of equity, inclusion and treating people with respect.
Her family disowned a frustrated and scared Scheck after they learned that she identified as a lesbian and was persistent that she return to their Rochester, NewYork, home for counseling and also give up an athletic scholarship. When she refused to give in to those demands, her embittered parents cut her off.
Few things are more painful than feeling excluded.
"There are lots of good people in the world who understand what I am going through – and I get so much more support from strangers than my family," said Schenk, who heard about the You Can Play program, and wanted to support it. "I was afraid to be who I was in high school. This has to change. Acceptance is important, and it's okay to be gay and also be an athlete."
Lorne Park multi-sport athlete Victoria D'Acre was astonished and frightened when she first heard of the Scheck story. She emphasized that students need to understand that there is more to going to school than just getting grades and playing sports.
"If I heard teammates, or other players, saying things that weren't acceptable, I simply wouldn't tolerate it and would tell them that we needed to sit down and talk about it," said D'Acre, an academic honors student and volleyball team captain.
Seventeen Lorne Park team captains, each taking on an important role in driving opinion, educating teammates and accepting the responsibility of community leadership, signed a You Can Play pledge emphasizing "LGBTQ athletes. Allies. Teaming up for respect."
Hockey team captain Brady Lynch said destructive and disrespectful behavior are not part of his cultural and social environment.
"No way should people be picked on because they identify differently—that's disgusting" said Lorne Park hockey captain Lynch. "There is no place for racist or gay slurs in sport or anywhere. In order to gain respect, you have to give respect."
Included in the Lorne Park pledge were these words:
"We're captains, we have major responsibilities that include
leadership. Locker rooms should be safe. Athletes should be
judged on talent, heart and work ethic, not sexual orientation
or gender equity.
As a team captain, I pledge to respect the talents and work of all
my teammates. I will encourage my teammates to speak up for
each other when confronted with slurs of any sort in the locker
room or on the playing field. And I'll start discussions that
promote the acceptance of all my teammates in order to build
trust and a winning ethic."
Lorne Park Principal Craig Caslick, attended the session and supported by administrators and staff, also put his signature on the challenge.
"We have a great reputation as a school for excellence in academics, student leadership, athletics, and the arts - we also strongly value inclusion and equity," said Caslick. "We love sports, and we know that playing sports is an opportunity for students to learn positive values and to prepare for the challenges of life."
Caslick said Lorne Park is using sport as an opportunity to celebrate diversity, kindness, caring and equity. He said learning these values is much more important than winning championships.
The You Can Play Project was started by the son of Brian Burke, a former National Hockey League executive, Glenn Witman and Brian Kitts. The project is a platform for athletes, coaches, and fans to create an atmosphere of inclusion.
Do you have an inspiring story, person or creation to share? Let us know!