Families bond through sport

STEPHEN SWEET - Special to the Examiner

It's a rare Friday night at the Loucks residence: the whole family is home.

March break officially begins the next day and Sam and Kairy Loucks, along with their children Keegan, Samantha and Ethan, are getting ready for some much-needed together time.

"We need this vacation to start liking each other again," said Kairy, laughing.

The year has followed along the path of many others in the Loucks' home. No less than a dozen sports between the three kids, played at the high school, rep and house league levels.

"You're at a hotel every weekend, at the rink, on the basketball court or the ski hill, but we want to make it happen for our kids," Sam said.

They're not as rare of a family as you think.

There are many instances in Simcoe County where both parent and child are involved at the high school level athletically, at the same time.

For the Loucks, it's twice as many, with both Sam and Kairy coaching squads at Bear Creek Secondary School, while Keegan and Samantha, Grade 11 and 10 students respectively, compete for Eastview Secondary School.

This year, Samantha holds the high score for sports in a school season.

"I play basketball, hockey, rugby, and do alpine skiing, Nordic skiing and track for Eastview, so that's six," said Samantha, who also shoots hoops outside school for the Barrie Royals.

The latter event was one that Samantha was coaxed into by her mom, a former CIAU All-Canadian track star at McMaster University.

"She thinks she's a rugby player," Kairy said.

Rugby is one of her husband Sam's sports of expertise, along with football, basketball and hockey.

Despite having a mom with a track pedigree, Samantha instead trains with former Olympian Joe Denes, a friend of Kairy's.

"Given his expertise, it's an amazing opportunity that he's working with Samantha," Kairy said.

It's been a natural fit for Samantha, who finished 10th at OFSAA in the javelin and 14th in the 300-metre hurdles last year, both very technical events.

The setup also means that Samantha has her mom available to lend a hand, but has some independence from Kairy, too.

"It can help (having my mom there at competitions coaching Bear Creek) but it can be annoying, too," Samantha said. "She's trying to help me out, but sometimes, I don't want it."

Having a mom around all the time is something that Jeff Casey, a junior basketball and volleyball player at Barrie Central, has had to get used to.

His mom, Kelly Faye, is coach of the school's junior boys volleyball program and, when Jeff made the squad last year as a freshman student, there were some growing pains.

"Grade 9 was a little bit awkward at the beginning," Faye said. "I don't think most teenagers, especially in Grade 9 when they're so self-conscious, want to be around their parents."

The two had to have a chat during the year to firm up the in-sport relationship.

"Jeff just said to me, 'don't be my mom while you're here, just be my coach'," Faye said.

It has worked, but Faye still has to walk a fine line when it comes to coaching her son at the high school level.

"When tough decisions have to be made, he usually gets the short end of the stick," Faye said.

"So if it's between him and another player for an award, which is what happened last year, the other player will get the award."

She recognizes the difficulty of the situation for her son, but also the positives it can bring.

"In that regard, he's probably had a tougher role, because he's had to be that much better to get anything," Faye said.

"Having said that, it's probably a good learning experience for him, so there's a benefit to it."

Jeff, who has been coached by his mom since he began playing volleyball, is used to it by now.

"She singles me out sometimes, just to make an example for the team, but she knows it won't affect me as much," Jeff said.

It hasn't hurt their relationship on or off the court.

"Things are pretty good," Jeff said. "It's pretty cool having her there at every game, supporting me."

Faye feels she is lucky because her son is pretty easy to deal with.

"Most of the time, it's pretty good, because he is a coachable kid," Faye said. "He's a smart kid and a hard worker, and he's really motivated to improve himself."

And in those situations where a teenager won't listen to his mom, Faye has other options.

"If I can't get something across to him, my co-coach will talk to him," Faye said. "Teenagers are always more responsive listening to someone other than their own parents."

Faye would love the opportunity to move up to the senior level with Jeff, and it certainly wouldn't be the first time a coach tried to move around based on where their child was.

Patti Grace, who coaches girls basketball at Eastview, saw a problem coming last year when her standout daughter, Sydney, was moving up the hoops ranks at St. Joan of Arc.

With the possibility of a head-to-head matchup looming, Patti made a decision.

"I didn't coach last year, because I wasn't sure what Sydney was going to play, and I didn't want to coach against her," Patti said.

As much as it might have been difficult to coach against her daughter - a six-foot guard who has given fits to opposing squads across Simcoe County - it was more about the fact that Patti couldn't root against her own child.

"Whenever my kids play against the school that I'm affiliated with, I have to cheer for my own kids," Patti said. "I can't cheer against them and I can't coach against them."

Sydney believes she wouldn't have been offended had her mom chosen to go up against her, but she can appreciate why the decision was made.

"I definitely respect her choice, because you don't want to get anything started there, but I don't think it would have affected our home life or anything," Sydney said.

Patti is still involved with high school-aged basketball, coaching Sydney with the Barrie Royals.

In that game, it's the daughter who's had to be more flexible.

"I like to teach run-and-gun and full-court press, so as a tall guard, Sydney's had to adjust to that," Patti said.

"She'd probably be more suited to a slower game, because she's six feet tall, but she's adapted quite well."

Sydney has enjoyed being able to play for her mom.

"I honestly love it," Sydney said. "She's a great coach and she knows what she's talking about. It's a lot of fun to work with her."

But part of being the coach's kid means that it isn't always so easy to get away from the game.

"When she coaches you, the game sort of comes home with you," Sydney said. "The whole ride home, she's talking about what we could have done differently and what we could have changed."

While Patti may go back to helping out the Eastview squads after Sydney graduates, she may consider staying away for a while, in order to get more time to watch her son, Jake, play as well.

"That's another reason why I'm not coaching high school sports right now," Patti said. "It usually would conflict with my kids' games.

"I figure I've got plenty of years to coach once they're out of high school, so it was very nice to get out and watch both of my kids play last year."

For some high school coaches running teams that don't conflict or even match seasons with their child's sports, there are other ways of staying involved.

David Gross, who coaches golf and senior boys volleyball at Innisdale, is often at his daughter Jenna's Eastview games, but he's not always watching her.

Instead, he's usually officiating or scouting.

"I referee at the college level, so when I'm watching my daughter's games, I'm either watching the referees or watching Jenna on a technical level," said David, who also coaches Jenna's Royals and Barrie Elites teams.

"Half the time, I'm able to just sit back, relax, and watch her play, but the other half, I'll be talking to her after the game about what she did or could have done. It's difficult to just watch."

That becomes even more complicated when he's officiating her games.

"It's fun being able to do that, because then I get to watch her up close," David said.

Calling her games doesn't mean Jenna gets away with stuff.

In fact, she believes that it makes things tougher.

"He'll ref harder against me and call stuff," Jenna said.

David laughed when he heard that.

"I don't doubt that that's her perception, but that's every child's perception," David said.

She knows to keep things quiet when she's out on the floor, though.

"The only time I'll really complain about a call to him is after, on the drive home," Jenna said. "I won't say anything on the court."

While both consider the referee-player experience to be a fun one, nothing is better for David than when he gets to coach Jenna, or her younger siblings, Cierra and Dalan.

"I think, first and foremost, I've wanted to be (Jenna's) coach," David said.

"I've spent a lot of years building up skills in volleyball and basketball and I've wanted to be the person to transfer that knowledge to her."

He's enjoyed it so much that he would consider switching schools in order to do even more coaching.

"My ultimate goal is to get transferred over to Eastview and be able to coach her at school," David said.

"It's something I've always wanted to do, to teach at the school my kids are at, and be able to coach their high school sports, too."

David and Jenna were successful this season with their respective teams reaching volleyball supremacy. Both Innisdale's senior boys and Eastview's junior girls' squads wound up winning the GBSSA title.

The Loucks, however, weren't afforded that same kind of opportunity this past November.

After a very tight senior boys football season, Sam's Bear Creek team advanced to the championship, to take on son Keegan's Eastview squad.

In the end, Bear Creek took the title, 15-8, but Sam felt that no matter what way the result went, things would be fine.

"It was a win-win situation," Sam said. "It wouldn't have been good for our guys if we had lost, but Keegan would have won.

"You kind of feel bad for him (because they lost), but it's just one of those things."

Keegan, who plays rugby and basketball as well, just shook it off.

"We didn't really talk about (the end result) too much," Keegan said. "It wasn't that big of a deal to me. He just said 'good game', and that was it."

Both father and son believe it was harder on Sam.

"Keegan didn't think anything of it," Sam said. "He was all right, but I was bothered by it a bit."

Adding to the potential for head-to-head play was the fact that Sam, along with fellow coach Lance Chomyc, run Bear Creek's offence, which was going at Keegan, a linebacker.

That fact wasn't crossing Sam's mind much as they called in their plays.

"You just try and ultimately coach your own guys and do the best with them," Sam said. "If Keegan is over there, then so be it."

The two are set to do battle again this year, with the schools scheduled to play against each other in rugby, Keegan's favourite sport.

That's not to say that Keegan will be looking over at the benches during the match, though.

"I don't really notice (my dad) at all," Keegan said. "It's not like he's part of the game. He's just coaching on the sidelines."

With Keegan still having at least one more year of senior sports left, the two may well match up again, but even after he graduates, his younger brother won't be far behind.

"I'm planning on playing rugby, skiing, and basketball when I go to high school," said Ethan, who is currently a Grade 6 student.

With the talent level of many of these athletes, a dream of them becoming professional players is always in the back of the mind of their involved parents, but they just have to keep things in perspective.

"When they started playing competitive sports, you're always thinking that your kid is going to the NHL or whatever," said Sam, who played a couple of seasons for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

"But soon enough, you start to realize that the sports are there just for fun, and you want your kid to get the best experience with whatever they're playing."

Often, that means a major time commitment.

"We drive all over the place for them, but there's a ton of parents who do the same thing, too," Sam said.

Sam and Kairy - and for that matter, all of the parents who are involved in athletics in the community - wouldn't have it any other way.

"You just do it and enjoy it," Sam said. "We like what we do and the kids like what they do.

"It's pretty taxing, and you're tired, but at the end of the day, it's worthwhile and everyone gets to have those positive experiences."

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