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Calgary's sport school that produces Olympic champions gets a year's reprieve

CALGARY — The National Sport School in Calgary that has produced Olympic and Paralympic champions will survive at least one more year.

The Calgary Board of Education planned to close the school at WinSport's Canada Olympic Park when the lease expired in June, and move the 200 students to public schools in a cost-cutting measure.

But the board said in a statement Friday "the National Sport School will continue to operate out of WinSport for the 2020-21 school year.

"Programming for the next year will be adjusted based on the CBE's fiscal reality and will reflect funding for a high school of a similar size.

"CBE will revisit the future of the National Sport School in the coming months."

The Calgary Olympic Development Association — now WinSport — and the CBE jointly established the school in 1994 to help athletes both pursue sport at a world level and graduate from high school.

Alumni over the school's quarter-century include Olympic champions Kyle Shewfelt (gymnastics), Jennifer Botterill, Carla MacLeod and Jocelyne Larocque (hockey), Kaillie Humphries (bobsled), Brady Leman (ski cross) and six-time Paralympic swim champion Jessica Sloan.

Two dozen NSS alum competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Teachers and students learned Friday morning their school would be spared the axe for at least another year.

"Lots of people were smiling for sure," said 15-year-old luger Tora Yacey. "Definitely a relief knowing that we have another year at least having the school open."

The NSS operated out of a Calgary high school in a school-within-a-school model before moving to a WinSport office tower in 2011.

The CBE allocates $1.8 million annually to the NSS.

Closing the school and sending students to a nearby high school of 1,100 students, or to a school in their respective districts, will save $1 million, according to the board.

WinSport offered to extend the school's lease for one year for the cost of $1.

Neither the CBE nor WinSport would confirm Friday that deal was made to extend the school's life.

The CBE said no one was available to speak to The Canadian Press.

"In light of this announcement, WinSport will work with the CBE to secure the long-term future of the NSS at WinSport," senior manager of communications Dale Oviatt told CP in an email. 

NSS students have access to WinSport's hockey rinks, ski slope, halfpipe, terrain park and a gymnastics club, as well as dryland training facilities and sport-science services at the Canadian Sport Institute.

They also had use of the bobsleigh and luge sliding track before it closed last year awaiting a renovation.

The majority of NSS students are winter-sport athletes, so the school is a revolving door from November to March as they head off to competitions and training camps and return.

Teachers and administration provide an environment in which students can access and complete the necessary coursework to graduate.

Yacey's luge teammate Kailey Allan trained and competed in Europe from Jan. 1 to Feb. 23.

The 16-year-old is training in Whistler, B.C., and will return to the NSS later this month.

"A couple of my teammates texted me, telling me the good news," Allan said from Whistler. "It's a huge stress-reliever.

"Hopefully we can figure more stuff out so it can stay open longer than just a year at COP, but it's good we have an extra year of planning.

Allan is scheduled to graduate in 2021, but Yacey not until 2022.

Yacey's mother didn't leave a Jan. 30 meeting with the board feeling optimistic about the school's future.

"There was a lot of lobbying, but in talking to some of the other parents, it didn't look very hopeful," Nadine Yacey said.

"I'm still hoping we don't have to go through this next year and something will get rectified over the next months."

"Find a solution that's going to benefit the CBE, but also benefit all those future Olympic athletes and their dreams. They want to be on the podium, but they also want to do well in school."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2020.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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