MONTREAL, DECEMBER 8, 2010 – A new breed of warriors is being built at Montreal North’s Lester B. Pearson High School. Camouflaged by their blue uniforms, they blend seamlessly into the crowd. They are dedicated, competitive and undoubtedly spirited. They are student-athletes.
Home to the only Sports-Études program within the English Montreal School Board (EMSB), Lester B. Pearson High School continues to turn out an elite crop of students who produce both in class and on the field. Leading the charge in 2010-2011 is perhaps the most talented crop of students yet, a class which keen sports enthusiasts would draw early comparisons to some produced by San Mateo, California’s famous athletic machine Serra High School.
Between Nicholas Parisella, Michael Pinios, Angelo Miceli, and Mario Lapenna, on any given day, two can be found playing professional hockey in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), with a third right on their heels. Not to be out done, Lapenna spends his evenings under the bright lights of Saputo Stadium at the Montreal Impact Academy or training with Canada’s U17 Soccer Team.
“When you think about it when you’re small, it’s a dream,” said Nicholas Parisella, a first-year centre with the Montreal Juniors. “Now, the dream came true and you don’t believe it. Not everyone gets that chance.
“With Sports-Études, they help you with your school and your sports. I’ve been here for five years and when I first got here, it was a bit different,” he added. “I got cut from AAA, but this program propelled me to work harder on the ice and off it in school.”
This propulsion has truly paid off and he gives much of the credit to the program.
“It was a shock when I was drafted because my name wasn’t on the list. I was so full of joy, it was so hard to believe that this happened, it was a great moment,” he added. “I was on the ice with Sports Etudes four times a week. If it wasn’t for them and the program, I wouldn’t be this good as I wouldn’t have had such an opportunity with the Juniors.”
Roaring closely behind Parisella is his classmate, Michael Pinios, whose goaltending prowess has recently put him in the spotlight as the RDS Player of the Week. While Pinios has yet to be nabbed by a QMJHL franchise, he realizes the opportunity might very well be presented to him in the near future.
“It’s been a long road, a lot of hard work, with many practices and hours. It’s a big commitment. You have to be able to handle the pressure and everything that surrounds you,” said Pinios. “If you make those decisions that you want to continue hockey, you have to keep on pushing yourself, and once you make it, it’s great, but you have to continue working hard.
“The system at Lester B. Pearson helps a lot, especially because school is very important for me,” added Pinos . “Casey Gagne, the coordinator of Sports-Études, has helped so much in this whole process. I’m a new student in the school and it was a little difficult changing from a private French school to Lester B. Pearson, but they handled everything very well for me. A lot of that school pressure was taken off my shoulders because of all the help that comes with Sports-Études. It let me clear my mind and perform on the ice as well and academically.”
Both Parisella and Pinios can look up to a former peer in Angelo Miceli who is now a regular for the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL. While he’s only 16 years old, Miceli had to leave Lester B. Pearson in order to pursue his hockey career, however, he does not shy away about giving the school the credit it deserves.
“Sports Etudes helped me out especially in terms of organizational skills and time management,” he said. “It also helped academically as it gave me the chance to maintain my work level and allowed me to play hockey and get better at it. I think it made me more mature and more responsible.”
This maturity and responsibility has paid off on the ice as he is one of only 10 players his age currently in the QMJHL. He plans on using this season as a learning experience, honing his talent as he gets ready for a strong sophomore campaign, a year when the NHL scouts will have their eyes squarely on him.
Yet, Sports Etudes has not simply produced high calibre hockey talent as onto the pitch, Mario Lapenna is in a class of his own, turning heads on a national level.
“My dream isn’t to wake up in the morning and do something I don’t enjoy. I’d rather make 50,000$ a year playing soccer than one million dollars a year doing something I don’t like,” said Lapenna. “I look at myself a few years ago, I was very small, skinny and I think of my progression – I’m one of the youngest players at the Impact Academy, and it’s a challenge, but I’m up for this challenge. I love it.”
With such a drive, it’s no wonder that he got the call from Team Canada.
“I didn’t know what to say or think. On our first day, the coach spoke about representing our country and I was speechless,” he added. “I’ve been to every camp and started every game. It’s a true honor.”
Even though the honour is due to his soccer skills, Lapenna understands that much of his game was honed within the confines of the Sports Etudes program.
“I think Sports Etudes was one of my best decisions,” he said. “I’ve been in Sports Etudes from Secondary 1 to Secondary 4. It ended this year because I’m with the Impact Academy and I train with them after school.”
“When I was in the program, I was training every day and Casey Gagne helped me a lot. He showed me the way, taught me valuable lessons. If I ever play this sport professionally, I’d come back to the school and the first guy I would see is Mr. Gagne. I see him every day writing the taxi tickets, making phone calls and working like an animal. We owe our success to him.”
In fact, all four standout athletes have passed through the arms of Gagne, who has served as a coordinator and mentor for all Sports Etudes students. Whether or not they crack professional ranks, he has undoubtedly joined their parents by offering a strong, yet subtle influence on their lives, nudging them in the right direction.
With their friends and family cheering them on, within months, all four will be shedding the student in their titles, playing their respective sports as a high level, reserved only for the few, the brave – the warriors.