© Copyright – 2017 – Victoria Sports News

After years of an atrophying sports culture, that followed a once glory-filled heyday of championships, the Victoria High School community (staff, alumni, student body, and volunteers) are actively taking charge to improve their domain.

For example, the basketball program has experienced a resurgence of sorts, as they improved greatly over the past two seasons with new coaching, determination, and management. They went on to finish first in the AAA division during the 2016-2017 season with a 10-1 record. Triple-A is a division up from the previous year. The 2016-2017 season was capped by an opportunity to host the city and island championships.

As the season wound down, the team lost some of their best players to injury, but continued to perform well for a team that previously struggled to put bodies on the floor at all; they had no uniforms until the 2015-2016 season. It was a sad state of affairs for the oldest high school north of San Francisco and west of Ontario and the only high school in the city proper of Victoria – the capital of the province.

Track and field and perhaps soccer are next.

Currently, the school community continues to fundraise to replace the dirt track and Memorial Stadium that was originally built in 1951. It is estimated that the project will cost a paltry $5.5 million (2014 value). In comparison, Oak Bay High School is reaping the benefits of a $50 million dollar re-build, while the University of Victoria’s Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities (CARSA) project was $77 million to build. The new Belmont Secondary was built in 2012 for $53 million. Five-and-a-half million is proverbial couch change out of the pockets of the province, city and school district – at least in comparison to the aforementioned projects.

The track is a relic of the Imperial system of weights and measures at 440-yards long, which makes it 402.336-metres in length, whereas standard modern tracks are exactly 400m and have a rubber surface.

In 1978, 39-years ago, I competed in an 800m race at Vic High as a 12-year-old. Even way back then, shortly after colour TV and colour photos had become the norm, in a moment of great irony, a teacher carved the finish line in the sand with a metre stick to mark where the race finished, as two complete laps would have meant running 804m.

It’s about time.

In case you may be wondering, I finished second in about 2:24.

In addition to the new track, the project will include an artificial turf pitch.

Greater Victoria went from artificial turf famine to feast, in just a few short years. Currently, there are at least a dozen artificial turf fields in the capital region. During the late 1990s, there was just one or two.

Roger Skillings, retired CEO of Canadian Sports Centre Pacific, is a part of the fundraising effort. The Vic High Alumni Association is part of a group of supporters that includes the Vic High school community, the Greater Victoria school board and the City of Victoria council. There is civic and school pride at stake here.

One of the key fundraising benchmarks has been passed and now the school will request the district to step in and top up. Official dollar counts are unknown at this time.

As for the current track and field situation, the BC High School Championships are taking place this week in Langley and Vic High grade 12 student, Chris Niketas, has competed. The Victoria (premier) Mariners player, who was also one of the leaders of the Totems’ basketball team, competes in the Javelin throws event.

This year was his first season chucking the spear, as it were. It was an accomplishment for Niketas to qualify for the 2017 provincials.

He has excelled, throwing the javelin to approximately 44m. During the provincial championships, he fouled twice and threw short for his third (37m) attempt – likely due to being overly cautious to get a legal throw off. A 44m throw he chucked in practice, would have had him finish top-5 provincially at the competition.

Along with Vic High’s stadium, track and turf re-build, the current school that was built in 1914, will undergo a seismic upgrade, which will see students attend the former SJ Willis Secondary until the project is complete. SJ Willis will receive a facelift worth approximately $3 million to accommodate the Vic High student and staff population.

The current K-12 migration process allows students to move to schools out of their catchment area quite easily, which can put a strain on sports teams. Students wishing to compete for a different school will apparently have a more rigorous process to follow as there will be a tightening of the boundaries.

Oak Bay High’s new facilities and highly competitive sporting culture can be attractive for student-athletes, but a transfer can displace in-catchment area students from teams, or arrive and find that they are spending time on the bench. “There are students that have moved from one school to another and found themselves on the bench,” said Tak Niketas, manager of the Vic High Totems basketball team. “They would likely have had good playing time elsewhere. We had a student who lived literally across the street and he attended Oak Bay instead. It doesn’t make sense.”

Greg Pitre, a teacher at Vic High said, “The tightening of the boundaries will help other schools too, like Lambrick Park, who have been losing students over the years to Mt. Doug.”

Oak Bay High School has a new principal with an objective perspective. She comes from Vic High and has seen what the easy transfer process does to student populations.

“Yes, Principal Randi Falls used to be at Vic High, so I think that is helping, as she is not trying to bring in as many students from out of the catchment area,” added Pitre. “She understands the scene well.”

With good facilities and renewed determination, Vic High’s student body can do well competing in the various sports that are available to them. In addition to the proposed new facilities and general commitment to success, the students will have the opportunity to compete on an even playing field. Fair competition is the least that a sports-minded student should expect for his or her commitment to their school.

With upgrades, new facilities and a determined attitude, the Vic High Totems, may soon be competitive again.

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