Signed jerseys of professional athletes adorn the walls of Room 167 at Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute in east-end Toronto. The jerseys were all worn by former students of Birchmount’s Exceptional Athletes Program (BEAP).
Below those jerseys, the next crop of athletes works through the day’s training session. Among them, Kevin Colley, 15, hopes to become a professional soccer player.
“I’ve thrown up a couple times,” Colley said, out of breath after coming off a machine called “Jacob’s Ladder,” a motorized ladder that he climbs endlessly.
But that’s exactly why he’s here in the program.
“I chose the BEAP program because I want to train. I want to excel at my sport. I came because I heard they teach you about health and how to become a better athlete,” Colley said.
Around him, jump ropes fly. Rowing machines are fired up. Training routines are underway with names such as “Escape From Alcatraz.” The tempo is driven by music from an app on Rob Pacas’s iPhone. He runs BEAP.
“It’s the best job ever,” Pacas said. “This class will have (Grade) 9s, 10s, 11s and 12s. Not very often do you get a multi-level class as well as a co-ed class. That’s what I deal with every day.”
BEAP began a quarter century ago with 20 high school athletes. Today, the program includes 200 participants, all of them hoping to play professionally in their favourite sports. The message from the instructors to the BEAP athletes is clear.
“Don’t let anyone train harder than you,” Pacas said.
But athletics aren’t the only thing Pacas hopes the kids take away from the program.
“It’s a pretty holistic message,” he said. “It’s a combination of eating well and living well, just making sure that everything is accounted for in terms of family and stuff. We want these guys to have good time management skills; We want them to be busy.”
And some of the graduates of the program certainly are. Wayne Simmonds plays for the Philadelphia Flyers in the NHL. Justyn Warner is busy training for the summer Olympics. Garrett May is building on a victory at the world junior volleyball championship.
While BEAP’s success stories are plastered on the wall, Pacas realized that not all those in the program will achieve their dreams.
“These guys are going to be our future leaders. If they go on to professional athletics and play for Team Canada or professional sports teams, great,” Pacas said. “But a lot of these guys are going to be our future coaches, parents, people within the community with an interest to health and wellness. These kids can go out and teach and educate everyone else.”