Rob Stiles from the Northern Adapted Sports Association (in the top left and bottom right photos) worked with Nusdeh Yoh Elementary School students over the course of eight weeks earlier this school year.
NASA taking off in SD 57 schools
For more than two years now, students and teachers in School District No. 57 have been getting to know Rob Stiles. More importantly, they’ve been taking advantage of the opportunities he brings with him.
Stiles is program coordinator for the Northern Adapted Sports Association, an organization that introduces and facilitates sports such as wheelchair basketball, para ice hockey and a variety of other activities that are modified in some way to accommodate participation for all.
“We cover any adapted sports and rec opportunities – anything that requires a change – so that people don’t get left out,” Stiles said. “We’re all about universal inclusivity. The obvious one, and the one we’re tending to most as the moment, is wheelchair basketball so we have a lot of wheelchairs. It’s a sport that’s universally inclusive anyway so everyone plays regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, whether you have a physical disability. Everyone gets in together.”
The Northern Adapted Sports Association, or NASA, regularly visits schools in SD 57 and other districts in this part of the province. This school year, funding through Engage Sport North has made introductory wheelchair basketball sessions cost-free for students in Grades 4, 5 and 8. Teachers or administrators who would like to bring Stiles in just have to fill out an application form (available online at northernadaptedsports.ca) and coordinate the date of the visit with Stiles.
Some of the SD 57 schools that have hosted NASA so far in 2019-2020 are Buckhorn Elementary, Pinewood Elementary, Ecole Heather Park Elementary, Ecole Lac des Bois Elementary, Springwood Elementary, McBride Centennial Elementary and Nusdeh Yoh Elementary. At Nusdeh Yoh, Stiles ran an eight-week after-school program centred around wheelchair basketball and wheelchair skills. The smiles and laughter at Nusdeh Yoh were clear evidence of how much the students enjoyed the experience.
“They just looked forward to it,” said Louella Charles, an educational assistant at the school. “He was unable to come one time because he had a flat tire and the kids were so disappointed that he didn’t come.
“A lot of the kids don’t have the opportunity to do after-school groups and they just come out of their shells, some of them. As an EA, I see them in school and then I see them in this environment and you can see that they are a whole different person.”
The Northern Adapted Sports Association also runs three community-based programs – Prince George LumberJacks wheelchair basketball, Prince George Hammerheads wheelchair rugby and Prince George Frost Bites para ice hockey. Through his work in the school system, Stiles is able to spread the word about these programs and open up playing opportunities for youngsters who may not have been aware of their sporting options.
“If there are individuals out there – especially young individuals – with physical disabilities, they often fall through the gaps so it’s very handy for us as a sports organization to try to connect with those people at a young age and make sure they realize there are options out there, and options in the north,” Stiles said. “A lot of the time people end up moving to try to stay active.
“But there’s also a huge awareness part that we don’t have to have separate sports,” Stiles added. “A lot of the time people are left out, and we don’t want anyone left out.”
One of the most memorable days for Stiles happened recently at a school in Fraser Lake, where he witnessed inclusivity in action on the wheelchair basketball court.
“They had asked me to come out because they had an individual in a wheelchair but they said she wasn’t going to join in, they just wanted everyone else to play so she could see it,” said Stiles, who was told the girl’s disability prevented her from being able to push her own chair.
Stiles did some homework on the girl’s condition before he left for Fraser Lake and, once he got there, invited her to sit in one of NASA’s specialized sport chairs.
“She said she would like to, so we put her in one of the chairs and it turned out she could push the chair,” Stiles said. “It’s a lot easier to push sports chairs than it is your day chairs just with the way they’re set up. And they were very concerned that she wouldn’t be able to hold the ball so I had beach balls and all sorts of things there, beanbags and stuff so that she could have something. We were only there for an hour with her but by the end she was playing basketball with everyone else. By the end she was quite happy and she was having a blast with her friends.”
Afterward, Stiles coordinated with the provincial Let’s Play program to get the student a chair that will allow her to continue to participate in basketball.
“If there is a child that needs a chair in order to be active we can actually get them the chair,” he said. “They can use it, they can keep it, it’s theirs to join in with.
“That’s the kind of thing that crops up that could really be life-changing – when everyone tells you that you can’t do something but, actually, with a few adjustments, you can. You might not go on to be a Paralympian or anything but at least you can have some fun.”