Some lucky Surrey students witnessed Canadian field hockey history as part of the Classroom Champions program.
It was October 2019 when Grade 7 students at Bear Creek Elementary travelled to Rutledge Field in West Vancouver to watch athlete mentor Scott Tupper lead Team Canada to a big win, one that qualified the squad for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Team Ireland came into the contest with a 5-3 aggregate lead from the first match. But there in West Van on a blue-sky fall day, Tupper’s last-second penalty stroke gave his team a 3-1 win in the second leg to force a shootout in which the Canadians emerged as winners.
The class field trip to watch world-class field hockey was a special one for all involved.
“It was like a movie, and so much fun to see,” recalled teacher Laurie Nociar of the pre-pandemic adventure.
“A lot of the kids hadn’t seen anything like that before, and it was the first time we got to see one of the athlete mentors actually competing,” she added. “We met Scott’s wife and family, and it was all picture-perfect, just lovely.”
Watch the moment they secured their spot at the Olympics ⬇️
— Team Canada (@TeamCanada) October 27, 2019
Nociar also raves about Classroom Champions, a charitable organization that connects “under-served” students with world-class mentors to help them build certain skills, through lessons and video conferencing.
Tupper, a two-time Olympian who grew up in Kitsilano, has been involved in the program since 2015, with classrooms of kids at schools across Canada.
“You get a cool connection with the students and, in a way, jump into their classroom and become a part of their learning experience,” Tupper said of his volunteer role.
“For us, we’ve had some cool experiences as athletes, and those experiences give us lessons, and those are transferable to kids who are kind of trying to find their way. To use sports in that way, to teach them, is something I’ve really enjoyed. Although the connections are largely online, you really do create connections with these kids.”
Tupper also fondly recalls that day in 2019 when Bear Creek students watched him play.
“There was some drama, and it certainly was a special weekend — something I’ll remember for a long time,” Tupper said.
“I remember seeing them there during the game. It was pretty funny because they were all yelling “Scott, Scott!” and there they were, with their baby-blue Classroom Champions T-shirts on. Most of our interaction was online, so to have them come to such a significant competition was a lot of fun, and pretty special.
“I had the chance to go talk to them after the first match,” he added. “It was an aggregate result and I was a little bit dejected, and I walked over to the side of the field and my wife and mom and dad, my in-laws, everybody was right there with the class. So they were all talking to them, asking them about me and how my dog was doing, it was really fun. To be honest, that probably changed my mindset because I was quite dejected about the result at that point, but they were having fun and really supportive, so it changed my mood around.”
Nociar recalls walking to a grandstand that didn’t have reserved seating.
“I had 25 kids there so we really wanted to keep them together,” she said. “We had a Classroom Champions banner and T-shirts, flags. So I asked everyone if it’s OK that this group scoots this way, and that one scoots the other way, and we got all our kids together, in the middle of the stands. And as soon as we all sat down, my kids started passing out flags to everybody. You know, ‘Here, take a flag!” It was a moment of serendipity where like, this is what life’s all about. The kids are having a ball, they’re leading the whole crowd in chants – you know, ‘Scott! Scott!” And a couple of times he turned around and waved to them. Do you think they’ll ever forget that? No. That’s the strength and power of this program.”
Team Canada includes a few Surrey-based players, and the squad practices at the city’s Tamanawis turf.
Tupper said the squad will be ready to compete at this summer’s Games, if the rescheduled tournament happens.
“Our expectation is that the Olympics will be going ahead and that we’ll be there,” Tupper said following a recent team trip to Holland and Germany. “Hopefully it all goes ahead, and we will be preparing as if the Games are going ahead, until someone tells us they’re not.”
As for Classroom Champions, Nociar has had students involved in the program for about a decade, and her current class learned with skeleton racer Mirela Rahneva – “one of those people who slides downhill at a 100 miles an hour, headfirst,” the teacher said with a laugh.
“We were fortunate to be among the first Surrey schools brought into Classroom Champions,” Nociar said of the program, which is supported by Shaw Communications.
“To have world-class athletes make a connection with the students and share their stories of learning and resiliency, goal-setting, how to be a leader, all of those lessons, it’s invaluable. The biggest benefit that our students get, overall, is peer communications.… It’s been a great partnership between Classroom Champions and the Surrey School District.”