Letter: ‘MRSS wrestling saved me’

Alumni asks school board to reconsider decision on Mount Crescent.

(files) Payten Smith starting wrestling at MRSS, then became the top-ranked female wrestler in her class at the nationals with SFU.

Editor, The News:

Re: Mt. Crescent Elementary to be renovated and re-opened.

I am a past wrestler and alumni of Maple Ridge secondary. I recently spoke with a representative of the MRSS wrestling team and was informed that it is being threatened to be shut down as the annex may be reclaimed and transformed back into an elementary school.

As this annex holds many amazing programs – such as badminton, yoga, the English, math and Japanese departments, and the alternative programs, such as Outreach, Journey and Reconnex – I fear that many of these programs may become threatened by this closure.

Some are being recommended to be moved to alternative areas, but as some of these programs require centrality and accessibility, I hold concern for the students and their potential inability to attend.

I understand that enrollment demands for elementary school levels may be increasing, but is there another alternative?

I ask, because if not for the MRSS wrestling program – the coach, the team, the sport – I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I joined wrestling in Grade 8, a spur of the moment decision, and a dream of one day attending a post-secondary institution.

Coming from a background of low affluence, I was aware that in order to advance to university, I would have to find a way to fund my journey.

Being a child of a hardworking, single father, receiving no financial support, funds were very low.

Wrestling wasn’t something that started as a funding dream. For me, it was the only thing I had ever excelled at.

I was an overweight kid who did not obtain the best of grades and had few friends.

Entering high school out of elementary, my self-esteem had reached an all-time low. Being bullied on a daily basis from grade 4-6 due to weight issues, I had few friends and a very poor self-image.

Although my teachers and family stood to be amazing support networks, the weight behind peers phrases of ‘fat-pig’, ‘ugly’ and ‘worthless’ took a toll daily on my confidence.

I will never forget the day where I joined elementary basketball, only to quit after one practice as three girls laughed at me, stating: ‘how could you play basketball if you can’t even fit into the uniform?’

Thereby, I held few hopes for high-school aside from the fact that maybe those who targeted me would not be present.

I recall the day that I heard the MRSS morning announcements made by Kris Crawford, during which she beckoned all willing and able students to attend wrestling practices with coach Bill McCrae.

I did not think much of it at the time, but as I had been discouraged from other sports due to my body, this was the only thing left that didn’t have a checklist of requirements. I was not fit. I was not athletic. But I was able and willing.

Wrestling is the sport that saved me.

It gave me a chance to succeed in life. Of course, there were amazing supporters all along the way who encouraged me to continue down the path. But it was the thing that began my journey.

As I am now in my fifth year of study at SFU, with the intention to graduate with a degree in criminology, with honors, I can state what it has helped me to accomplish.

With its help, I gained a chance to build self-confidence and a body image where I didn’t have to cringe when I looked in the mirror.

It enabled me to gain friends and social networks far surpassing what I could have ever expected.

It allowed me to attend, and receive a post-secondary education that was paid for through sweat equity.

It gave me the ability to represent my town, province and country in multiple national and international events.

And most of all, it gave me pride.

Had it not been for the support of my family, friends, school and coach, I would have never accomplished what I have.

If not for Mr. McCrae and MRSS wrestling, I do not think I would have ever advanced past go.

I know that I am not the only one who has entered public school systems and been brought down through relentless bullying.

I know that I am not the only one who thought that they would never achieve anything higher than average.

I know that I am not the only one who comes from a past of adversity.

Wrestling is a chance at life, and if it is removed from MRSS, I fear of the futures that will die along with its legacy.

I am asking the school board, which meets again on Wednesday, Dec. 12, to re-look at its decision in taking back Mount Crescent from MRSS.

Payten Smith

Maple Ridge

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