By Terrance Gavan
I did a Junior Highlander feature on a talented young curler, Alex Casper, last week. She’s 14 and in her first year at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School.
In the article we detailed Casper’s dynamic curling skills; her dedication to the sport; and her marvelous potential. She is a member of Peterborough’s Erin Butler rink, a foursome that will be curling in the Ontario Bantam Girls Championship.Casperis the lead on that team. She was recruited by the rink because she’s very good at what she does Casper is the youngest player on a team of 16 year-olds. She, as we said in the headline last week, “punches above her weight.”
In that article we mentioned in passing that Casper also curls with the HHSS girls A-Team. We may have been premature. The Red Hawk A-Team, with Alex throwing third rocks for skip Laura Pottier, qualified for the Gore Regional Finals at Toronto’s Granite Club this weekend [Feb 4-5].
Here’s the rub: the Ontario Bantam Championships are at the Galt Curling Club inCambridge, Feb 8-11. The dates conflict with a Kawartha high school competition. During the course of the interview last week, Alex said she was torn up over the conflict. She mentioned that going to Provincials would mean missing the school meet.
Casperis 14 and she asked for advice. She was told that the trip to the Provincials presented a pretty huge opportunity. She told me that, on advice from people she respected, she made the decision to curl with Butler, because she figured that her Haliburton High School Team could use an A-Team spare. She made it pretty clear that she was not making the decision on a whim.
She added, cogently, that the Erin Butler rink could never find a spare in time to replace her at lead.
Last Thursday evening we were informed by a few members of the curling community that Casper’s place on that team has come under some scrutiny. We phoned her dad Eric Casper and he confirmed it.
We learned further that Alex Casper’s dream trip to the Gore Regionals, and indeed her place on the Red Hawk team, was being subjected to a review.
That prompted a visit to the school from Alexandra’s dad, on Friday afternoon. He told The Highlander that it was a productive meeting, but declined to get into specifics except to say it lasted over an hour.
Eric told me that he was there on behalf of his daughter and not to plead a case. He was there as a concerned dad just asking for some clarification about his daughter’s status with the team.
Teacher and Coach Cathy Hutson confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that Eric — a coach himself, and the icemaker at the Minden Curling Club — had requested and been granted a meeting with the Hal High coaching staff on Friday.
We talked with Hutson on Tuesday and she maintains that Alexandra was not cut from the team last week, but she did add that a decision regarding her Gore status and team status would be made on Wednesday.
When pressed on the issue of Casper’s status as a member of the Haliburton Curling team, Hutson said, “It’s not been completely decided yet. We hope that by tomorrow we’ll have a decision. We’re waiting to talk to a couple of people.
“We have a curling practice tomorrow in Minden, and we’ll know then. Girls [on the team] are in and out of school right now with exams. So we have nothing to report. Nothing is determined right now.”
Part of the mandate of a columnist is to approach issues head on, in a forthright manner. So we enter this fray with good intentions, and in the interests of clarifying a dicey situation. To wit: is it fair to subject a 14 year-old girl to this kind of scrutiny? I am uncomfortable with any conditions that force such a young athlete to make complex decisions about opportunities and loyalties.
To be perfectly blunt, we are flummoxed.
We know that athletes at Hal High combine school hockey with organized competitive hockey. Not too far back, a young kid named Matt Duchene was able to pursue his dream on two sets of ice — with his school and in triple A.
Male curlers in the past have combined high school and bantam participation. Wrestlers are involved in other sports. In fact, at a school as small as Hal High, it’s darn near imperative that most students compete in a number of sports.
I guess what concerns us most is the message all this sends to a young woman who only wants to stretch her horizons.
Dad says that Alex is an enthusiastic member of the Hal High team. She’s never missed a practice and she obviously asked her dad and other “grown-ups” for guidance, with the decision to forego a Red Hawk event in favor of a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Provincials.
After that, it gets a little confusing. We don’t know what we’re waiting for or who is making the decision; at press time, we don’t know what’s happening to Alex Casper.
More importantly, we don’t know why.