Ryan O'Shea is in a tough spot - and he couldn't be happier.
The Fleetwood Park Secondary teacher has found a way to indulge in his sporting passion while passing it along to some of the kids at the school through an innovative boxing program.
A former Canadian junior champion while he attended Lord Tweedsmuir as a teen, O'Shea said that while high school boxing is rare in Canada, it is quite common in other parts of the world.
"It's the first one that I know of in the time I've been involved in the sport," he said of his group. "In the '50s and '60s there must have been boxing in schools. The whole idea comes from England where it's very well established. Schoolboy boxing is common there and it's quite popular."
O'Shea said he has toyed with the idea of starting a boxing program at Fleetwood Park for a couple of years, but the notion found a foothold when Deb Losier, who works with the Surrey school district's Connections program (previously known as alternate schooling) at Fleetwood Park, approached him with a similar proposal. The two teachers took the plan to Fleetwood Park principal Sue Knox, who gave it the go-ahead with the stipulation there be no sparring involved.
"It really was amazing," O'Shea said. "I knew there would be interest from the kids, but I didn't expect the support necessarily for boxing in the school district. It just seems like it's a good option for kids who don't have a spot (activity to be involved in). I was surprised to get the approval but everyone has been really supportive from the get-go."
More support was on the way as Losier rounded up $1,000 from the school's Parent Advisory Council, a total that was matched by the Forzani Group, owners of the Sportchek chain. O'Shea used the money for a variety of equipment including gloves, jab pads, skipping ropes and standing racks to hold the new heavy bags. All kids need to participate is gym strip and a pair of running shoes.
O'Shea said the program is aimed to attract a group of students who haven't carved out a space in the greater school community. Fleetwood Park offers a wide range of clubs and athletic programs, but even with all those options, there are still some students who don't get involved in any school activity. In a strange way, O'Shea identifies with those kids because he has been looking for a spot to call his own as well.
"Starting a boxing program is something that's always been in the back of my mind ever since I started teaching," he said. "My background is in boxing so I'm not a rugby coach or a basketball coach. So in a way, like the kids, I'm also trying to find my spot here even though I know that boxing is my love. So when this opportunity arose, I jumped at it. I realized this is a way I can teach these kids something that I know and am passionate about while also helping kids who are still trying to find a spot."
O'Shea initially wanted to start the boxing program last year but those plans were put on hold because of the teachers' job action. When school resumed in September, O'Shea held a meeting for interested students and was pleased to see 50 sign up for the fledgling program.
Many of those kids had to pass on the boxing due to commitments to other sports, but O'Shea manages to attract 25 kids to the two-hour workouts held two nights a week.
"Right now, the program is attracting the kids I hoped would get involved - the kids who haven't found a spot," he said. "Right now it's a core group of 20 or so kids who don't play another sport. The guys who are involved in basketball still want to come for the training, but to be honest, I really can't handle more than 25 kids at this point.
"I don't have anybody working with me; it's just me on my own."
Under O'Shea's direction, each training session features a core lesson on a major concept of the sport such as movement, jabs or defence.
O'Shea sets up a circuit involving heavy bag work, defence, push-ups, abdominal work, bosu balls, skipping and shadow boxing. O'Shea also offers one-on-one coaching jab pads. Kids progress through the assorted stations to complete the night's training.
"There is some contact involved with the job pads but no one-on-one sparring or anything like that," O'Shea said. "There are actually quite a few kids who are very quickly going to reach the point where they will want to spar.
"So the idea now is I will take some of them to boxing clubs where they can get registered and start sparring and filtering out to compete in the community clubs."
O'Shea is encouraged by the results so far. The Fleetwood Park kids appear to be enjoying the program and if the boxing group takes hold, O'Shea hopes it will spread to other schools in the Surrey school district.
"I know other teachers know what I'm doing and perhaps I could drop in a help get things started at other schools," he said.
"Most of all, I would love for it to grow to the point where there could be some sort of sanctioned tournament among the different schools. There is definitely the potential for that, but we would have to make sure everything was properly in place."