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Nothing new, and other school and soccer stuff

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I continue to be ever-vigilant on your behalf, and late last week bugged Education Minister Peter Bjornson yet again about the Gordon Bell High School sports field.

In this breaking news update — pause for suspense — there is nothing new.

There’s nothing imminent in the bid to acquire the former auto dealership along Portage Avenue from Canada Post to be used as a desperately-needed green space/athletic field for Gordon Bell, said the minister.

Meanwhile, in other education stuff, I apologize to College St. Norbert Collegiate for referring to it recently under its former name of St. Norbert Collegiate.

Three new school board chairs in the city have been elected by their fellow trustees — yes, it’s annual board meeting time again — Bruce Chegus in St. James-Assiniboia, Karen Velthuys in Pembina Trails, and Marilyn Seguire in Louis Riel.

So now they get the immense pleasure of having me phone them for the next year.

And in yet another topic, I got wind last week of what sounded like a pretty good story, a school division in which teachers are supposed to follow a HAM policy. That stands for homophobia, abortion, and masturbation, and the policy allegedly told teachers that if any student raised those subjects, to cut off discussion immediately and to refer the student to a school counsellor.

I ran it past the division in question, and here’s what an official had to say: "There is no "HAM policy" in (the division). Teachers in (the division) are required to teach what is in the curriculum and because there are no outcomes related to abortion and masturbation, health teachers don’t teach on these subjects. If questions or comments around any of these subjects come up in any class, teachers are free to respond and are expected to be sensitive, respond with clear, factual information, and guide the conversation so it is respectful and promotes tolerance."

If anyone wishes to differ with the division’s position, or if there’s something else in place elsewhere in the province, crank up your email.

And seamlessly going into a segue, I’ve got to say that Steve Harper has been nothing short of magnificent lately. What an amazing performance! Absolutely breath-taking.

Five clean sheets, one goal allowed in six matches as my Newcastle United goes to the top of the League Championship and sets its sights on returning to the English Premier League next season, and that fantastic Steve Harper has had so much to do with it — what? You thought what? No, that’s silly, I’m talking here about THE Steve Harper, the Magpies’ goalkeeper.

Meanwhile, speaking of soccer, I’m losing track of how many people/teams are threatening to file complaints about me.

Few weeks back, I’m doing a Premier youth match in East Kildonan, home coach reams me out after the match for, he says, costing his team valuable field position throughout the match, and they’re going to file a complaint about me. I called about a dozen offsides against his opponent, but this guy says I don’t know the rules, he says that you bring back an offside to the point at which the ball was first kicked, not the point at which a player in an offside position became offside and therefore caused an infringement. And he was pretty het up about it, chasing me across the field until another club official told him to handle it through a formal complaint.


Does he chew out refs after every match over this call, or has no one ever called an offside in his favour before?

I did five matches this weekend behind Grant Park, all 11-and-12-year-old competitive, where some of the parents are somewhat less than a true delight, gearing up to be premier and regional parents, and in a few cases, provincial parents.

One SEU home parent indicated he’ll be going after me, though it’s not clear whether it’s for my alleged incompetence or for my finally talking to him the way he’d been ‘talking’ to me, or for both. He had flag duty on one side, several times screaming "Handball!" and waving his flag even though his only job is to signal that the ball is completely out of play, and was bellowing at me because he didn’t like me making several ball-to-hand rulings when the players had their hands where they were supposed to be and did not deliberately handle the ball. And I rebuked him, finally, and he didn’t like it.


Then there was the visiting coach from northeast Winnipeg who early in the second half erupted at me, proclaiming so the whole south area of River Heights could hear, that I was taking all the flow out of the game because I was calling nothing but throw-ins, that these poor girls couldn’t get any flow to the game and it was all because of me, and stop calling throw-ins and let them play the game. I stood there at first somewhat dumbfounded, muttering to myself, OK, we’ll ignore the lines, and anything that doesn’t bounce onto Taylor Avenue 40 yards south of the field will be in play. The players on both teams were putting the ball out of play continuously, because they were playing tight to the line instead of taking the ball into open space by using the rest of the field, so it was throw-in after throw-in. And yes, I called some players for brutally awful technique on throw-ins, surprisingly so for a competitive level with all the extra practices and clinics for which the parents pay. Understand, this wasn’t a neophyte soccer parent pulled from the crowd, this was one of those guys in the nifty track suits with all kinds of coaching credentials. It was just so bizarre — but his parents, of course, picked up on it, and started hollering at me to stop awarding throw-ins and just let the kids play.

And then in a boys’ game, which I called tightly — I gave my first three yellow cards to 11-year-old boys this weekend, very rough matches and a lot of lip — one father yelled at my back that this ref is suffering from you have any notion just how offensive some people may have found that? And I wonder how many boys asked their parents later what that means, and if you told them, good luck explaining how it pertains to a 61-year-old man, and maybe it could lead to a family discussion on misogyny.


All of which is a rant, and not entirely just to annoy you when you thought you’d come here to read about education. Most of the time, these teams I officiated this weekend get refs aged 13 to 15. When you send your son or daughter off to referee these games, and they have to deal with these parents and coaches, maybe they come home sometimes beaten down and discouraged and you’ve wondered why.......

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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