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Calgary's National Sport School that produces Olympic champions avoids axe

CALGARY — The National Sport School in Calgary that has produced Olympic and Paralympic champions is switching school divisions in order to survive.

The Calgary Board of Education was going to close the 27-year-old school June 30 as a cost-saving measure.

The CBE and the Calgary Olympic Development Association, now WinSport, established the school in 1994 to help athletes both pursue sport at an international level and graduate from high school.

Alumni include Olympic champions Kyle Shewfelt (gymnastics), Jennifer Botterill, Carla MacLeod and Jocelyne Larocque (hockey), Kaillie Humphries (bobsled), Brady Leman (ski cross) and six-time Paralympic swim champion Jessica Sloan.

The school is located in an office tower at WinSport's Canada Olympic Park.

Palliser School Division trustees voted Tuesday to add the National Sport School to its jurisdiction. 

“WinSport is thrilled that the National Sport School will be joining the Palliser School Division in September, ensuring its long-term future at Canada Olympic Park,” WinSport vice-president and chief financial officer Phil Graham said Tuesday in a statement.

The Palliser division stretches from Calgary to south of Lethbridge, Alta. It includes 15 community schools, 11 faith-based schools, 17 Hutterian colony schools and a home-schooling program.

 “The Palliser School Division has demonstrated its commitment to operating unique, small schools efficiently and effectively and with its focus on developing caring citizens in a changing world, the timing couldn’t be better," Graham said. 

National Sport School teachers and administration provide an environment for roughly 200 student-athletes to access and complete the necessary coursework to graduate while they travel to compete.

Students have access to WinSport's hockey rinks, ski slope, halfpipe, terrain park and a gymnastics club, as well as dryland training facilities and sport-science services at the Canadian Sport Institute.

They had use of the bobsled and luge sliding track before it closed last year. Two dozen NSS alum competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“We recognize the excellent work of WinSport and the Calgary Board of Education in the establishment and operation of the National Sport School," Palliser Superintendent Dave Driscoll said in a statement.

"We are looking forward to working with WinSport in writing the next chapter of the National Sport School and supporting current and future student-athletes as they pursue their passions and dreams.”

The NSS operated out of a Calgary high school in a school-within-a-school model before moving to Canada Olympic Park in 2011.

The CBE said the $1.8-million cost of operating the NSS was too high for its student population and that closing it would save $1 million.

 This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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