Last year at this time I was stunned by our first Skills Ontario gold medal and suddenly found myself on Team Ontario going to Nationals. We’d been battling in Ontario provincial competition for several years before that break through. In the year since I’m surprised by how engaged I’ve been in preparing to compete again. Being hungry after years of failure is in my nature, I’m competitive, but I thought perhaps the win would tick a box and cause me to change direction; it has poured gasoline on the fire. I’m proud to wear that Team Ontario jacket.
This year Skills Ontario has moved to a bigger venue, which was needed. Unfortunately, instead of it being twenty minutes away through the country, it’s hours away through the worst commute in North America. The new venue is great and it fits this huge event, unfortunately it’s located on the Moon – actually the Moon would be easier to get to.
I tried to be creative and cost effective and look for ways to make this impact our competitors as minimally as possible, but the school bus route was a disaster. We were all up at 4am on the day of competition. We were on the road just past 5am and it took us almost three hours of fighting interminable traffic piloted by people with dead eyes to get there. We arrived late, tired and worried that we’d missed check in; not the ideal way to start an all-day nine hours of competition.
I got my people signed in and then I could unclench. In IT this year I had the brother of a previous competitor who I think is one of my strongest yet, expectations were high. He ended up getting stuck on something so simple that he was kicking himself pretty much the moment the competition was over, but I think that error was more the result of four hours of sleep, a miserable commute and the stress of getting there late. Under the circumstances I think he did a fantastic job, but I failed to provide the logistics necessary for him to produce his best work.
After the early morning, three hour commute-from-hell in and nine straight hours of competition (my student didn’t feel he could take a lunch and finish in time), we had to wait for everyone to finish and didn’t leave the venue until well past 5pm… straight into evening rush hour. It took even longer for us to fight our way out of the GTA and then we thumped into the twilight along miles of potholed Ontario roads on the leaf sprung school bus. When we finally rolled in well after 8pm I was exhausted, my sciatica was screaming at me and I hadn’t spent nine hours in intense competition; I can’t imagine how the kids felt.
I went home, took Robaxacet and passed out having not eaten anything since lunch. The next morning I was up at 6am to get back on a god-forsaken school bus at 7am to go back to the same place we’d just left for the awards ceremony. It took us nearly three hours to get there through the angry parking lot that is the GTA. Getting to the ceremony late, we sat through the awards in an excellent venue. My IT competitor managed to get a bronze medal, which I think is brilliant (he thought the whole thing was a write off). He must have aced the rest of it considering the single mistake he made meant he couldn’t answer many questions.
Back on the bus again at noon, I took the competitors who hadn’t eaten yet (7am departure) to lunch and we got back to the school at a perfectly reasonable time (no rush hour). I’m already thinking about how to try and manage this next year. My only goal is to deliver my competitors in the best possible shape early and on time to the competition. We looked into hotels, but anything by the airport is twice what it costs anywhere else in Ontario.
There is no doubt that we needed a new venue. They said in the ceremony that Skills Ontario has grown from two hundred to over two thousand competitors, and we’d outgrown RIM Park in Waterloo. It’s unfortunate that the only venue big enough is in the GTA, which gets further and further away from the rest of us in Ontario every year. Having lived in Japan, it amazes me that I could access Tokyo, a city of twenty-five million, with ease, but the GTA with its paltry seven million is infrastructure inaccessible.
At lunch, one of our exhausted students asked why they have to start the competition at rush hour. It’s a good question. Running Skills Ontario next year from 11am to 8pm would save a lot of people their sanity. In non-rush hour times we’re able to get to The Toronto Congress Centre in under ninety minutes. Many of the student visitors don’t get there until past 11am anyway, so it wouldn’t impact that aspect of the show.
I’m disappointed at the results we got this year, but that’s entirely on me. As their coach, my job is to take care of the logistics and deliver them primed and ready to compete. This year had new and difficult circumstances, but I didn’t resolve them sufficiently and it hurt my students’ ability to produce their best work. That guts me. I’ll do better next time.