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Principals talk behind closed door

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The Manitoba Teachers’ Society implores me every year to cover SAG, the annual special area group in-service for every teacher in the province.

This year SAG has 28 separate specialty conferences on Oct. 22, keynote speakers and workshops galore on math, science, phys ed, kids at-risk, French immersion, aboriginal education, school libraries, reading, guidance counsellors.

And I’ve read through the entire conference book, picking out half a dozen sessions we might consider for coverage.

Including an afternoon workshop for the Council of School Leaders, wherein MTS staff officer Bobbi Ethier will lead a principals’ discussion entitled "Ten easy steps to avoid legal landmines in the principalship."

There will be real case studies as principal participants review the Public Schools Act, Workplace Health and Safety Act, Labour Act, and other sometimes-dicey legislation. MTS has told principals they’re welcome to bring their own real-life scenarios to run by the gathering.

And guess what?

Pause for suspense.

Out of all of the hundreds of SAG sessions that the union wants us to consider covering, that’s the only one that MTS says we will not be allowed to attend.


Moving on....

Define irony and give an example......Chapters Indigo sent me a news release about its foundation which does very commendable work raising funds for schools in low-income neighbourhoods so that they can buy books and other reading materials. To get my attention, the company sent me a sample copy from a new series of books for kids on activists, in this case, a book about environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki. It came in a way-too-big cardboard envelope, and inside the envelope, the book itself was wrapped in a significant amount of crinkly cellophane.

And another segue......

I should keep track of how many requests and pitches inundate me to run stories about companies holding contests for schools. Emails by the boatload, followed by phone calls from public relations types in the centre of the universe expecting that we’ll write stories mentioning their clients’ business a few times.

Listen, carefully, read my cyber-lips: if a Manitoba school takes part, we may — repeat, may, for emphasis, MAY — consider — repeat, consider, for emphasis, CONSIDER — possibly thinking about maybe doing a possible story.....tentatively speaking......But we won’t do your marketing for you.


Here I am worrying about child the elder bicycling 20,000 km around the USA for the next few months, and I almost got run over walking to Sev to buy milk on Saturday morning.

If you drive a red car, licence number ending in 4, and you were eastbound on Academy and turning right onto Ash Street around 8 a.m., do you have the slightest idea how close you came to hitting me? Did you ever consider wearing sunglasses when you’re driving into early morning sun, or slowing down on a turn, or actually looking? Not all 62-year-olds can suddenly break straight into a sprint when they realize that the turning car is coming straight for them and not slowing down. Fortunately, I didn’t pop a hamstring by sprinting without stretching, though I doubt you care.

Snort of self-righteous indignation.

And in an entirely unrelated topic, parents wonder why there aren’t enough soccer referees to go around, and why they have to step out of the crowd to ref so often:

It took since early May this season, but I finally had a soccer team tell me it was filing a formal complaint about me. After a summer of refereeing adults and competitive youth teams, my first two youth recreational matches of September brought me nothing but grief from coaches.

I had an 18-year-old girls’ match in Lindenwoods, but the field turned out to be unplayable and had supposedly been taken off the list for scheduled matches. It was a cow pasture with absolutely no lines, the goal posts were in deplorable shape, and there was jagged metal protruding from the upper left corner of one goal.

But instead of calling it a night and sending everyone home, I start working the phones, calling my esteemed supervisors to find an available field, not an easy thing to do at this time of year. But one full-sized field was open, down in Waverley Heights, Bairdmore School, so we all got in our cars and trekked down there. I don’t remember the green on southbound Waverley at Bishop Grandin being so short — but I digress.

I get there, the field is lined, no nets but the goal posts are fine, the grass is long and obviously hasn’t been cut for a while. The visiting team arrives in several cars, the two coaches separately look at the field and both tell me very aggressively that the grass is too long, the field is unplayable, and that they will not play the match.

I tell them that I have inspected the field and declared it playable, that if they refuse to play I will abandon the match and let Winnipeg Youth Soccer sort out the consequences. So they play, under protest, and tell me they’ll be filing a formal complaint about me.

And I had a 17-year-old boys match the night before, in which, as is typical for that age and gender, the players yapped for pretty much the entire 90 minutes, challenging most of my calls on fouls and offside and ball to hand. And as can be commonplace for boys 15 to 18, some of the yapping crossed over into open contempt.

I hadn’t used my cards for a while, but I issued four yellows that match, two to each team. For the losing home team, it was for unsporting and for a harsh foul, for the winning visitors it was two yellows for dissent.

One case, the home team scored, visiting defenders whined that it was offside, I told them I was right on top of the play and attacker came from an onside position and simply outran them, they yapped, I told them I’d heard enough, they yapped, I carded one of them for dissent.

Later in the match, home team kicks the ball out of play, I’m right there, I see a visiting player jump to try to block it, clearly hear the ball brush the back of his billowing shirt, I call it off visitor and award the throw-in to the home team, an innocuous play that happens dozens of times during a match.

So then another kid on the visiting team hollers loudly to the other guy, demanding to know if that ball had gone off him. Over I go, tell the kid that I’d made my call and that’s the end of it.

"I’m not talking to you," he says loudly, and hollers to the kid again.

I tell him to knock it off and get on with the game.

"I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to him — did that ball go off you?" the kid hollers again. I tell him, no, you’re not talking to him, you’re telling the entire park you don’t like my call, and I warned you to stop, and I give him a yellow for dissent.

His coaches make it clear they’re unhappy with me. After the match, they give me a lecture; I won’t exaggerate and call it a chewing out. Bottom line, short version, 17-year-old boys will challenge and question everything I do, I’d better expect and accept that, and if I don’t, I don’t belong in refereeing.

Silly me — I thought that when the rulebooks and coaching clinics and coaching guides tell coaches that they’re responsible for teaching their kids correct behaviour, that coaches were responsible for teaching their kids correct behaviour.

I won’t even get into the coach of the 16-year-old recreational boys who threw a hissy fit and did all kinds of hand and body gestures to let the players and parents know he was utterly disgusted with me. My crime? One of his players got the ball blasted into the pit of his stomach from five yards away, crumpled in pain, stayed down on his haunches, clutching his stomach, and moaning, while one of his teammates gathered up the ball and launched a promising attack towards the opponent’s goal. And I stopped it all by whistling down play for an injured player.

If I wanted to be treated with contempt on a soccer field, without consequences for the kids and parents doing the contempting, I’d go back to coaching.


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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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