The Pearson lobby won’t see many more moments as happy as these.
Before a crowd of beaming parents, happy teachers, coaches and friends, eight teenagers put pen to paper and enjoyed a ceremony to mark their future, but also to appreciate the past.
New Westminster Secondary’s athletic department gave student-athletes Noah Armitage, Broxx Comia, Emma Hughes, Octavia Lau, Evan Nolli, Kinsale Philip, Nisa Reehal and Ben Stewart a well-deserved spotlight, as they celebrated recent post-secondary commitments to play and study.
“The big message today is you can have it all. You get more when you’re a student athlete,” remarked New West Hyack football coach Farhan Lalji, who MC’d the event. “Student athletes put in so much time, hard work and effort, and everything they do should be respected times-two because getting through school is hard enough. If you can do both, you truly are a special human being.”
Comia, Nolli and Philip were part of Lalji’s football squad, which won the provincial title in 2017 and are heading to the universities of Manitoba, SFU and Toronto, respectively. Each played a role in the program’s first B.C. Subway Bowl title in 2017 and helped guide them to the final this past season.
Armitage and Stewart have field lacrosse commitments with the U.S. Div. 1 universities of Stony Brook and Hofstra, respectively, while Hughes and Reehal will take their soccer to the next level for Bishops University and UBC, respectively. Inking a deal with Michigan and their NCAA Div. 1 swimming program is Lau.
Each has made extreme sacrifices to reach this point, but it wasn’t a scholarship they started chasing. There was the sport as its own purpose, a social activity and a place where they met friends, before it became a route to a bigger achievement.
For Comia, football evolved from an unfamiliar game into a means to find his own purpose.
“When we first got here I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Comia remembered of his family’s arrival from the Philippines when he was five years old. “My friend got me into playing football and since then I met friends through football. It made me stay in school, because if I didn’t have football, I don’t know where I’d be now. With football I stayed in school.”
For every time any parent has had to drag their child to a practice – and nearly every kid has had those moments – this was the icing on the cake. And any parent at Tuesday’s noontime event would be tempted to brush away a tear to hear the gratitude these athletes held for those who made it all possible – teachers, coaches, support staff, and especially their families.
“The biggest adjustment I’ll face, probably, is being away from family,” remarked Lau, who will attend the University of Michigan on a swimming scholarship. “That will be very hard because they’ve supported me for a long, long time and without them I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.”
For Hughes, the next stage is a challenge she’s eager to embrace.
“It means everything for me, because I’ve been playing soccer for about 12 years and just knowing all my hard work has paid off and the challenges I’ve gone through are paying off,” she said. “I’ve been able to express myself as a leader, be a leader with my team and it’s just exciting I get to keep up my sport in my adult years.”
Both NWSS principal John Tyler and athletic director Peter Battistin noted how much work each player and their families have put into achieving this opportunity, to have their sporting passions earn them access to a university education.
“Its days like these, (and) days like graduation -- those are really the milestones. As much as the championships we win, these days are more important,” added Lalji.
“School is hard enough to get through and when you’re a student athlete – I always say our kids should get more because they do more. They’re special. The amount of time (Lau) put in the morning before school starts to do what she does, what they all do, it’s hard work. To manage that, to manage school and then to manage the academics just to get into school and not just graduate, we’re happy for all of them.”
Comia, who averaged 77.71 yards per game this past season, said so many people have helped him get to this point – thanking his teammates, parents, teachers and coaches. He aims to continue making the best of what football has given him.
“I love this sport,” he said. “It’s built me to a different person, to the person I am today. I’m proud of it. I stuck to this game and it’s helped me throughout my life.”