Game Changers: Southridge Alumni Reflect on their Years as Student Athletes
Marissa May

At Southridge, we believe students develop important character, leadership, and personal and practical skills through participation in athletics. Our various recreational activities and competitive teams allow students to develop a deeper connection with the school by fostering a sense of spirit. We believe that participation in athletics assists students to develop an appreciation for the importance of lifelong physical activity and well-being. Here, we catch up with some alumni who reflect on their time as Southridge athletes and who share with us how participation in school sports helped shape their lives and influence their personal and professional pursuits.

Walking into the Senior School gymnasium these days looks a lot different than it did when alumna Kristin Hazzard (formerly Leuszler) graduated in 2000. There are awards present and banners hanging on the walls – proof of how far the Southridge athletics program has come since she became a student here in 1998.

Kristin already had a passion for competitive sport when she joined Southridge, having just recently helped her former school win the 1997 provincial championships for volleyball. As a new member of our school community, Kristin was determined to build the athletics program into something BIG. In her first years, the school’s athletics program could be described as fledgling – they didn’t even have enough interested female students to form a volleyball team! Kristin was determined to help change that.

Kristin was named the female athletic steward because of her competitive nature and leadership abilities. Building a group of strong female athletes was extremely important to Kristin, but it did take some convincing to get players to join the teams.

“I had to convince my friend who was 'terrified of sports' to join the volleyball team,” muses Kristin. “It was the only way we could get enough bodies on the court to have an actual team.”

Kristin’s determination and athletic ability helped grow the athletics program at Southridge and she takes great pride in that. The Southridge girls basketball team won their first basketball tournament during Kristin’s time on the team, and Kristin held the title at Southridge for most points, rebounds, and assists for several years after she graduated. To this day, Kristin is still considered one of the top female athletes Southridge has ever seen.

Beyond our athletes, a staple in the growth of our athletics program over the years at Southridge has been the amazing community of coaches, who are truly invested in our student athletes. In the early years of Southridge athletics, Kristin recalls the incredible guidance from people like Mr. James Porpaczy.

“Mr. Porpaczy inspired me to become a coach and mentor,” recalls Kristin. “During my Grade 11 and 12 years, there was no coach for the Grade 8 girls volleyball team, so I stepped up and took on that role with pride.”

Since leaving Southridge, Kristin has gone on to build a career in leading teams as an executive coach and speaker. She credits her years as a Southridge athlete and everything she learned during that time for the path she has taken in her professional life. Other alumni athletes are equally as eager to attribute their personal success beyond high school to lessons and values learned while playing sports for Southridge.

Maya Kobylanski, Class of 2020, recalls, “Southridge athletics prioritize being a good person before having an overly competitive mindset,” she says. “I learned a lot about teamwork and perseverance during my time as a Southridge athlete. The values we were taught as students in the classroom translated to the field.” Support from coaches and how seriously they take their roles as coaches is another theme that stands out when Southridge alumni reflect on their years as student athletes. And beyond the serious side of coaching, our alumni also attribute their coaches for creating a fun and lighthearted sports and team experience.

"Mr. Chiarenza was one of my favourite coaches,” says Maya. “He was my basketball coach and fostered my love for athletics. Coaches can be the make-or-break reason why you stay with sports. I think it’s important to keep sports fun and my Southridge coaches did a really good job at that.”

“Having coaches at Southridge like Ms. Rodriguez-Lang and Ms. Beer, who were fun, weren’t too intense, and had a nice attitude made me want to continue swimming at the University level,” recalls Katherine Toy, Class of 2018. “I remember other swim coaches wouldn’t celebrate the team wins, but I would look over and see our coaches jumping up and down,” she says.

Tessa MacDougall, Class of 2006, recalls the beginning of her soccer journey and her need at that time for opportunities to learn, gain experience, and develop her skills. “Southridge coaches take the time to get to know their students, and truly “let every spirit soar” both on and off the field,” she says. “Their support in allowing students to chase their dreams and guiding them to reach their full potential is unmatched.”

Tessa shares the story of her soccer coach, Mr. Stinger, who truly saw her potential. He reached out to her about playing above her age group with girls who were older, bigger, and much more experienced. “At that point, I hadn’t really considered that I might have the talent to really grow in the sport and play with girls that were much better than me. Having Mr. Stinger as an advocate and supporter at an early age changed my attitude about what I could accomplish,” she recalls. “Seeing that support from coaches, creates confident athletes.”

The continued support and encouragement from coaches throughout the lives of our students and alumni is also something our alumni feel is remarkable. Rohan Sall, Class of 2022, recalls seeing his two Junior School basketball coaches, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Gallant cheering him on at his banner game in Grade 12. “Mr. Anderson even helped me choose where to apply to for post-secondary,” says Rohan.

Many of our athletes keep in touch with their former Southridge coaches well after graduation and return to campus to share their highlights and accomplishments. Many of our alumni agree that they have skills like fair play, teamwork, communication, confidence, time management, and leadership thanks to the athletics program at Southridge.

Beyond the skills gained, our alumni also love to reflect on the memories etched in their minds from their time as student athletes. Many have specific games, team trips, friendships made, and memories of crowds of Southridge supporters that have stayed with them all these years later. These nostalgic moments of celebrating wins, overcoming disappointing losses, bonding with teammates, travelling, and accomplishing big things are what makes being an athlete so special.

Nick Collett, Class of 2014, recalls his UK rugby tours in Grade 9 and Grade 11. “We had the opportunity to travel all over the UK, including England, Scotland, and Wales,” says Nick. “One year, the rugby team was given the unique opportunity to form a billet relationship with a team from Scotland. I stayed with my billet family twice, and my billet came to stay with my family in Grade 12. I was even able to reconnect with him in the past couple of years,” shares Nick. “I attribute my journey with athletics for building my character, and for shaping my morals and the person that I am today.”

Tessa MacDougall has some equally fond memories. “An absolute highlight of my time at Southridge overall was winning the 2006 high school soccer provincial championship,” she says.

“We travelled to Osoyoos and played a lot of games over the course of the weekend. We had an impressive season to that point but hadn’t previously won a championship. The final game was against Osoyoos Secondary (#1 seed) and I remember we went down 1-0 in the first half. My cousin and close friend Janelle and I managed to combine for both goals in the second half to come back and win. I still remember how many parents, teachers, and fans came all the way out to Osoyoos to watch the championship and support our team, which we appreciated! That weekend we were able to bring home the school’s first banner, and we were all extremely proud to be a part of the milestone.”

Southridge athletics would not be what it is today without every individual player, coach, and supporter that has been a part of this journey. From national level hockey players and Canadian trials qualified swimmers, to NCAA championship winners, our alumni athletes continue to make us very proud in their post-secondary athletic endeavors. If you walk into the gymnasium today, and look up at the walls, you’ll notice the once bare walls are now peppered with championship banners, reflecting how far Southridge athletics have come, and the legacy that this community continues to create.

Contributed by Marissa May, Alumni Relations 
Originally published in Spirit Magazine - Spring 2023