Regina high school students Jayden Lorenz and Brandon Logan took a leap of faith of sorts when, despite pleas from their friends, they each decided to enroll at the newly formed Martin Academy, the Queen City’s newest addition to its public school system.
Offered as an option of Martin Collegiate’s high school curriculum, the new academic-athletics program allows grade 9-12 students to earn their credits for intensive, daily training in a sport they want to pursue as a career.
Opened in the fall of 2014, the academy trains student-athletes in one of baseball, hockey, softball or premier. The premier stream allows students outside the three other sports to train with their respective clubs or coaches and earn credit for it. Sports like judo, diving or water polo are part of the premier stream.
Student-athletes attend regular classes in the morning for their first four periods. After lunch they train in their respective sports, filling the two remaining periods of the day. Each semester they earn two academic credits for their training.
The benefits of choosing Martin after his first year at Thom aren’t lost on Lorenz, a baseball player. The grade 10 pitcher and infielder called it the “best decision of my life.”
Before enrolling at Martin, Lorenz knew he was a good pitcher, but he thought he’d have to rely only on that to pursue college ball after high school, he said.
After improving his infielding at the academy, “[coaches] actually turned me into a shortstop, and other players and coaches tell me how much I've improved and I look like a natural shortstop now,” he said.
His pitching has seen gains too.
“I actually just hit 81 [mph]. My goal was 80 for about six months and I was stuck at 79 for a long time. Then I broke 80 and in the same day I got 81,” he said.
Average speed for his age group is between 73-75 mph, Lorenz said.
So far, the newly-formed program seems to be succeeding.
“Our retention rate is almost perfect of kids coming back,” said co-coordinator Rob Cherepuschak. The Martin teacher said this year’s cap of 120 students is expected to grow next year to more than 200.
“We had to put a stop to grades 5, 6, and 7 students pre-registering so we made a rule that you can’t register until your first day of grade 8,” he said.
Cherepuschak is quick to point out the academy isn’t just geared to training athletes for sports. He and co-coordinator Kim Perepeluk, a teacher at Sheldon high school, have to develop training that reaches curriculum outcomes for classes like health and wellness and media communication.
On a recent, mid-February tournament trip to California, the varsity baseball teams took in a Los Angeles Lakers game against the visiting Celtics.
The media angle: “we got to see at the L.A. Lakers game the game-day production,” Cherepuschak said.
Students compared the Lakers’ pregame approach and team media with what they knew about other NBA teams, learning about target audiences and techniques used.
The junior team finished the tourney, the Terrio Therapy Spring Classic, with a respectable 3-2 record that included a 6-1 rout of favourite Liberty High School, a school of 2,800 students.
Martin has approximately 460 students enrolled.
Now, Lorenz finds himself selling the academy to his friends at Thom, telling them what they’re missing at Martin.
Brandon Logan, a catcher in grade 9, is in a similar boat.
After finishing at Grant Road elementary, he debated between attending nearby Campbell high school with his friends and attending Martin for its new sports training program.
He and his friends see the dividends of his decision: “I have quite a few friends I've played ball with who go to Campbell. I guess they're kind of jealous,” he said.
Logan said the school-sport balance makes a difference too. “You're looking forward for this training, like it's a reason you go to school,” he said. “It definitely keeps your grades up and (you) stay mentally into the school.”
Like Lorenz, Logan wants to play at the college level.
Their seniors are beginning to forge that path for them: Chase Nistor and Brandon Hutt have signed letters of intent to play baseball with junior colleges in California: Nistor with Taft Junior College and Hutt with Yuba Junior College.
Not bad for a high school in the middle of the bald, ice-plastered prairies.