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Sunday, May. 19, 2019
Sudbury venues play host to the flavour of Franco
by Randy Pascal

Some of the very best high school boys volleyball teams in the city made their way to North Bay on the weekend, attending the 2018 Scarlett and Gold Invitational. None, however, were of the french speaking variety.

There is simply no way the local francophone contingent were about to bypass a chance to compete at the Franco Volleyball tournament in their own backyard.

A grade 11 student at Ecole secondaire catholique l'Horizon, Samuel Saumure estimated that this was his fourth appearance, or so, at one of these gatherings of francophone institutions only, events that transcend a handful of different sports, and have now expanded right down to the elementary level as well.

“We're generally really excited just to play some of the teams from across Ontario, the french teams,” said the 15 year old former “AAA” hockey talent. “The Ottawa teams are really powerful. They have humongous schools, schools with 2000 kids, a hundred kids to pick from for the team. At Horizon, we had twenty players or so at tryouts.”

Though a very talented Horizon Aigles junior team would lay claim to the Division “B” final on Saturday, defeating Paincourt (outside of Windsor) 17-25, 25-15, 15-12, the senior boys were forced to divide into a pair of entries, given one last minute tournament drop out. Still, they walked away with valuable experience.

“We competed, which is what our goal was for the weekend,” said Saumure. “Our regular season hasn't been going our way, so far. But on Friday, we won eight of our ten sets. Mostly, we changed our attitude. At a lot of our games, there had been no bench hype, no excitement - it was really getting quiet.”

“We changed that up this tournament, and it really impacted us.”

The Sacré-Coeur Griffons senior boys were in a somewhat similar predicament, needing to find an appropriate level of competition to help the team move forward. “This gives us a chance to grow as a team,” noted grade 11 setter and weak side hitter, Bradley Bertrand.

“Ottawa is strong and usually, we play maybe one game against one of their teams (in pool play) and then go back to our bracket where we are supposed to be, and we do well. I think we came in a weaker team than we're going to come out as.”

For teammate Jacob Paradis, also in grade 11, the love of this annual event was established prior to ever hitting the secondary school setting. “In seventh and eighth grade, I played Franco with St Pierre,” he said. “That was fun. It's a good introduction. It's not as intense as the high school tournament, that's for sure.”

“In high school, we have these cool events to open up the tournament, we have an all-star game. It gets everyone socializing.”

The elite skill of the core teams from the nation's capital, alluded to above, was plainly evident again this weekend. The three Division “A” medal winning teams were all from Ottawa (Franco Cité Faucons - gold, les Gaulois de Garneau – silver, Béatrice Desloges Bulldogs – bronze), a collection of teams who appear as OFSAA mainstays, year in and year out.

“Our school is known for our volleyball program,” noted Franco Cité veteran Stephen Swim, whose mother is a “Lalonde”, with a very deep Sudbury family connection. “We've been training since the seventh grade, every day. We've hosted this tournament a few times too. It's part of who we are.”

Given the priority placed on volleyball at the school, it should come as little surprise just how engrained the marriage between athletics and culture is for the Faucons' faithful. “Everything we do is in french,” said Swim. “We make all of our calls (on court) in french. It's a very communicative sport, and you have to have good chemistry, so it's exciting to be doing it in our own language.”

With the Franco tournament banner now safely secured, the Franco Cité squad looks forward to other goals to conquer. “I think we will definitely make it to OFSAA again,” said Swim. “This would be four years in a row. We're not as good as we were two years ago. We had massive guys in the front row then, one guy 6'7” and another that was seven feet tall. We get kids to start young, and then they join club teams and keep training.”

Lest that not convince you of the lure of volleyball for these Ottawa based schools, you might want to take a moment to peruse the coaching staff of the silver medal winning team from Ecole secondaire catholique Garneau. A member of the Volleyball Canada Hall of Fame, Paul Gratton made his debut, on an international stage, as a member of the Canadian National Junior team in 1977.

He was captain of the Canadian Olympic team in 1984, a squad that finished fourth at the Summer Games in Los Angeles. These days, he is giving back to a sport that he loves. “I coach mostly club (volleyball) right now, but I like to give a hand (elsewhere) every once in a while,” said Gratton. “My son plays for Garneau, so I was happy to join that team.”

Despite the fairly significant changes in the game since his playing days, Gratton is nothing if not optimistic for the future of volleyball. “It's really, really exciting what is going on with volleyball right now,” he said. “What they are trying to do is sell the game a little bit better, make it more attractive to younger talent.”

“If you do that, then you can recruit better talent, better athletes, which is only going to make our game more exciting and fun to play.” And when that fun can be combined with the context of a culture that he also holds dear, then there really isn't that is a whole lot better. “It's important for these kids because it's our community, it's the francophone community in Ontario.”

“It's exciting to go out and meet other teams and other coaches and other players, to mingle and make new friends.” The Franco Volleyball tournament, after all, is about so much more than just volleyball.

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