Most Ontario students would consider the members of W.F. Herman Secondary School's boys' basketball team lucky: Their coach is one of just a handful of teachers across the province who has resumed leading extracurriculars since the Christmas break.
The Windsor, Ont., students don't feel lucky, however, as their team has lost two star players – and possibly a shot at the provincial title – as a result of the ongoing dispute between their teachers and the Ontario government.
The uncertainty over whether their season would be cancelled as part of teacher protests prompted two students to sign up for an Iowa-based club league. The boys are both vying for athletic scholarships from Canadian and American universities, and their futures are at stake.
The impact of the labour dispute between the Ontario government and its teachers is mounting. The boys on W.F. Herman's basketball team demonstrate the true cost of the labour unrest – beyond sick days, democratic rights, provincial deficits or elections – and the lasting effect it will have on students.
Some of the hardest hit are Grade 12 student-athletes like Marko Kovac, who were counting on being spotted by university recruiters this year.
"Not all of us can afford a university education," said Mr. Kovac, one of the W.F. Herman students who has missed several weeks of school to travel with the Iowa team. "For us, extracurriculars like basketball are a vehicle we can build a future on."
Mr. Kovac and his classmates at W.F. Herman have seen firsthand the life-changing potential of what they do outside the classroom. One of their school's most famous graduates is O.J. Atogwe, a seven-year veteran of the National Football League and son of Nigerian immigrants who launched his career with an athletic scholarship to Stanford University in 2000.
The team's coach, Matt Loebach, said he didn't feel right holding his players back when there was a such a serious risk of the season being cancelled.
"I'd be doing them a disservice," he said.
Reluctantly, he let Mr. Kovac and a teammate, Tyler Storie, leave his team for a the Iowa club team, which they found out about through another W.F. Herman alum who plays college basketball south of the border. The exposure has won Mr. Kovac interest from Division 1 schools such as Oakland University and Illinois State University – places the son of a social worker and factory worker might otherwise never dream of.
Mr. Storie, who was raised by a single mother who works two jobs, has been offered full scholarships to some junior colleges in the United States.
Michael Barrett, president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association, said he's heard concerns from across the province about the loss of athletic scholarships. "I've heard anecdotal information from trustees that kids in Grade 11 and 12 are very concerned," he said.
It's more than just sports, he said, as students may lose out on performing arts scholarships without drama, for example.
Mr. Storie is grateful that his mom was able to come up with $300-a-month so he could play with the Iowa team. He regrets, however, that he wasn't able to play alongside the friends he's known since grade school, and help them win a provincial title.
"This was supposed to be our year to win," he said. "It just hurts a lot."