Every year, young athletes are awarded school scholarships, receive monetary and award recognition for outstanding efforts in individual or singular team competitions, and have a spotlight shone on their accomplishments. Those athletes are incredibly deserving, but for everyone of those who hit a high profile pinnacle, there are dozens who make sacrifices and invaluable contributions to their school or club sport programs with barely a whisper of a mention.
Such an athlete is Riley Sylvestre, recently graduated from Muenster School. Riley’s athletic prowess, determination, and team minded attitude has helped him excel in multiple sports, both team and individual. Now as his high school and youth sporting career winds down, he reflects on those accomplishments and the attitude that’s produced some of those results.
“When we go into a provincial tournament or something, it’s never in my head that ‘oh we’re here to win. We’re always there to work hard, try our best, and have fun. And it always ends up with our doing really well. This year in volleyball provincials, I never thought going in that we were going to win provincials. As the ball dropped for the last point and we won, it seemed it just kind of happened that way.”
That doesn’t negate the excitement of the first every provincial boys volleyball win for Muenster School. The seemingly nonchalant attitude doesn’t mean that Sylvestre is not driven to personal excellence or challenges. His wide range of participation speaks to that. Throughout his youth and school playing career, Sylvestre has been in hockey, baseball, volleyball, soccer, track and field, cross country, badminton, and curling. And while he may not have ascended to the podium in each of those sports, he’s provided a critical element to the success of his teams and the support of school programs.
Smaller rural schools such as Muenster, Annaheim, Lake Lenore and Three Lakes (Middle Lake) have found it necessary to join forces in co-op programs. It makes contributions of all youth athletes more important given that without their contribution, those sports programs might not exist at all outside of larger centres. The close knit nature of the co-op schools made it easier for teammates to bond, says Sylvestre.
“With hockey and baseball, I’d been playing against them since I was really young, so I knew most of the players from out of town. So when I would join them on a team for soccer, for example, it was just like, ‘there’s my buddy from Annaheim; we get to play together now’.”
That spirit of cooperation is important to coaches like Curtis Strueby who led the Lake Lenore, Muenster, Annaheim combined Lancers to a silver provincial medal in soccer. The gold went to their neighbouring combine of Cudworth and Three Lakes. Strueby noted that in the case of soccer, it’s a necessary move to maintain chances for students in small schools to play. That’s why participation by athletes in a wide range of extracurriculars are so important in seeing programs survive.
Sylvestre has jumped into places when he’s been asked and meets every sporting environment with the same “can-do” attitude. When the boys curling squad needed a fourth player, Riley mused, “Why am I not in curling? Might as well join.” He also pursues individual endeavours like cross-country, and one of his favourites, badminton. He plans to compete in badminton during the upcoming Saskatchewan Winter Games.
Sylvestre has recognized that sport has contributed to his own personal development in terms of his determination and positive contributions in those sports, but also in his community. Off hours can find him and his teammates flooding and painting the ice at the rink, prepping the diamond at James Korte Field, reffing and providing guidance to younger players entering the sport. It’s the sport of small town community volunteerism that keeps sports facilities going at reduced costs to users.
Sylvestre credits that spirit, in part, to his coaches, including Strueby and Darren Varga, longtime volleyball coach.
“Coaching us throughout the years in volleyball, he always had us having fun and working hard, and he would coach us to be good players on the court, and that always transitioned to off the court, in town with volunteering. We’d always participate and work hard in everything.”
The benefits of sports on the physical side are well-researched and documented. When it comes to the pursuit of excellence in a particular avenue or sport, the Humboldt and Muenster area is replete with outstanding examples. But for dozens and dozens of sports participants and athletes like Riley Sylvestre, the benefits of his participation are borne out in who they are and how they contribute to their community. For Sylvestre, those contributions will continue as he enters post-secondary study this fall in the field of engineering.