Family first, family forever

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Evan Frustaglio was a member of the inaugural class at ‘The Hill Academy’ (Photo via Andrew Abes)

There’s a sign that hangs above the gym of ‘The Hill Academy’ reading “Family first, family forever.” It’s a theme that goes hand-in-hand with everything at the Vaughan, Ontario independent high school and its high performance training program. The gym is named after the late Evan Frustaglio, a 13-year-old alumnus who died suddenly of the H1N1 virus.

While Frustaglio is gone, his spirit lives on.

One of the motto’s of the school is “#18 #45 Hill Pride,” with #18 representing Frustaglio’s number and #45 representing Jamieson Kuhlman, another young alumnus whose life was cut short too soon after suffering a fatal head injury from a hit during a lacrosse game.

Dan Noble is the director of athlete performance at ‘The Hill Academy’ and also taught and worked with Frustaglio. He says the situation was tough, especially with a group of 13-year-olds having to understand such a level of tragedy.

“Most of the greatest opportunities in life come out of pain,” said Noble. “We’ve been able to try to take the pain from Evan and try to give it some purpose.”

A connection beyond the gym

Noble says that Evan’s death connected and bonded himself with the athletes he worked with on a daily basis. It’s a statement that most ‘Hill Academy’ alumni can echo.

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Congrats on being selected 38th overall to @flapanthers @adam_mascherin23 #elite #Repost @coachnoble45 with @repostapp ・・・ @hillperformancetraining family wishes @adam_mascherin23 good luck tonight @nhl draft. Over the past 3 months Adam has been training every morning at 8 am and back at it training after school. He has transformed his body, losing almost 16lbs and developing a new level of confidence. Adams humble, loves to work and demonstrates the desire to get better everyday. I guarantee no pick would wasted on this kid. Remember it's not what happens at the draft but rather what YOU do after the draft. #justanotherday #offseason #worktobedone @coachselby17 @andrewabes

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While the training program aims to put their athletes in the best position to succeed academically and athletically, it’s the special, personalized connections that the staff creates with their athletes that makes this a possibility.

Robbie Demontis is the all-time leading scorer for ‘The Hill Academy’ hockey team and attended the school for four years. The 20-year-old Vaughan, Ont. Native has been training with Noble for almost 10 years.

“It’s such a close-knit group…Dan really personalizes the relationships he has with all of us,” said Demontis. “I think that’s different than a lot of sports gyms out there…he [Dan] works towards what they need specifically to improve.”

‘People first, athletes second’

Being different is something that Noble says athletes notice immediately about ‘The Hill Academy.’ “The first thing our athletes realize quickly is that we care about them as people,” said Noble. “It’s about seeing them succeed as people first and athletes second.”

Andrew Abes is the senior strength and conditioning coach at ‘The Hill Academy.’ Just like Noble, he shares the genuine care for the athletes he works with. While Abes says it’s a great feeling to help the kids he works with reach the pros, he recognizes that looking out for them is a huge reason why the Academy has earned itself a good name and why its alumni keep coming back.

“I think for young athletes to have that feeling of these coaches have my back no matter what…I think that’s something special and I think that’s what kind of brings them back, that sense of trust and that sense of belonging we instill over here at ‘The Hill Academy,’” says Abes.

Noble believes in creating a comfortable environment where no topic is off the table. He’s very open with his past and acknowledges his own mistakes as a kid were his own doing. Noble wants to appear “real” to the kids he works with and isn’t afraid to have a heart-to-heart conversation if such a situation arises.

He doesn’t give typical cliché answers to their problems and sees no sense in creating a sense of false security when there are real issues right in front of him.

“A lot of these guys don’t have people to talk to,” says Noble. “Most of these kids leave home at 15-years-old. I think that’s a big issue, especially when it comes down to the issues we see with sexual assault and violence against women. These male athletes are leaving home….and a lot of time never actually receiving any sort of positive, consistent male role models in their lives.”

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Awesome moment having @danielciampini17 @george_argi @ajdorazio21 @robbiedemontis & @acirelli22 share their paths and stories with our @thehillacademy1845 Sr class yesterday. Although all of their journeys were very different, the one common denominator was that they all faced adversity at multiple points. The only difference for them is that they embraced it and used it to fuel them rather than to defeat them. Pain, rejection and failure are life's greatest teachers and motivators. We all feel like quitting sometimes. You just have to keep getting up and moving forward. We may not always end up where we had hoped or thought, but I guarantee that if you face the storm, you will end up exactly where you are suppose to be. I have trouble fully describing how proud I am of these men. The best part is that I know their real journey has just begun. These Athletes are the reason I coach and I love what I do. @nhlblackhawks @lakeforestcollege @officialyalehockey @oshawageneralshockeyclub @tblightning #StMikes @coachselby17 @andrewabes @coachnoble45

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Creating a foundation

Demontis describes his time at ‘The Hill Academy’ as “character building.” He felt that stepping into the gym he was just a kid and is now leaving a man. The staff preaches qualities such as leadership, and that there are different ways to lead.

You don’t necessarily have to be the most vocal person to demonstrate leadership. Everyone is encouraged to be a leader in their own way regardless of your age, skill level, and the sport they play. Demontis believes this was instrumental in becoming captain of his junior ice hockey team.

“You learn a lot about yourself and you learn a lot about how to build a certain character that can make you successful at the next level…the proper character to get through the adversity that you face,” says Demontis.

Noble believes that creating a foundation is the key to building character in young kids. He sees it as a tool that provides kids with the opportunity to explore their passions and gifts from an academic, personal, and athletic standpoint. Noble fosters growth in these areas by creating an environment where learning and being better is promoted and expected from peers.

He instills qualities that will guide athletes in all walks of life, not just sports. Those qualities include resilience, being adaptable, compassion, and purpose.

Each athlete at ‘The Hill Academy’ undergoes a program Noble calls, “the periodization of the athlete’s mindset,” where different themes are incorporated based on what’s being covered at the gym.

“Something we’ll promote is self-exploration,” says Noble. “Who are you? What do you stand for? Why are you here? They’re questions that kids cannot give very cliché and quick answers fairly quickly but when you really push them and take away things, ‘Okay. Now answer those questions without saying friends, family, and anything to do with their sport,’ they’ve got to really start thinking about what do they really stand for?”

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A weekly theme is posted on the blackboard to challenge athletes. (Photo via Andrew Abes)

Discovering yourself beyond sports

Noble and his staff have found that once you’ve been able to connect an individual with a greater purpose, it connects all aspects of a young athlete’s life and provides a greater platform to lean on when adversity strikes.

“If they tear their ACL, if they only solely defined themselves as an athlete at the time, it’s going to be very difficult for them to get through that,” says Noble.

Noble says that if an athlete has a greater understanding of who they are beyond just an athlete, then they’re more likely to come out of times of adversity even stronger.

‘The Hill Academy’ does just that. It’s undeniable that their athletic program has been a huge success. The school produces NHL talent with a pair of top five overall picks, Mitch Marner and Michael Dal Colle, amongst its notable alumni.

But ‘The Hill Academy’ like their athletes, define themselves beyond an “athletic factory.” Their athletes are student-athletes and they’re committed to providing the best post-secondary opportunity for their students.

Preparing for the next step

“We have a full 360° approach,” says Abes. “We have teachers who are understanding of the pressures of the schedule. The big thing for our program is communication between the teachers and administration, coaches we work together to make sure our athletes are prioritizing what they need to do at the appropriate time.”

The smaller class sizes creates a more interactive environment where everybody feels engaged in the learning experience and similar to the training room, students and teachers share a more personalized relationship.

Time management skills are also taught to help students transition into the college lifestyle where balancing school and athletics are a part of a student-athlete’s daily routine.

“Because I went to ‘The Hill’ for so long I was so used to the schedule – skating in the morning, working out during the day as well as doing all your classwork,” says Demontis. “That’s a similar schedule I’m going to have at school next year. If anything I’m going to be more prepared than anyone because I’ve been through it.”

A majority of graduates from ‘The Hill Academy’ go onto play hockey and lacrosse in the NCAA at Division I schools. This includes prestigious Ivy League schools, Harvard and Yale, the latter being where Demontis will attend school this fall.

“I want to see them [athletes] go on and do great things,” said Noble. “It’s a part of the journey that never gets old is watching people go from good to great, watching someone that struggled and prevailed on the end…it’s an amazing feeling.”

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The numbers of the late Evan Frustaglio and Jamieson Kuhlman hang above the gym at ‘The Hill Academy.’ (Photo via Andrew Abes)

Gone but never forgotten

As stated earlier, one of the motto’s of the school is “#18 #45 Hill Pride,” in memory of two of the Hill’s very own. While they may be gone, they’re certainly not forgotten.

The moment you enter the school, you’re family.

You may leave ‘The Hill Academy’ and do great things, but you’ll always be a part of ‘The Hill’ family.

Learn more about The Hill Academy: http://www.thehillacademy.com/

 

 

 

The One Who Almost Got Away

At 6-3, Greg Morrow is a tough guy to miss.  Fortunately, Brad Campbell, Western University’s Men’s basketball coach, didn’t miss him either.

The London native wasn’t on the radar of any school, let alone Western’s. In fact, when Campbell and his coaching staff first saw Morrow play, they attended the game with their eyes set on another player.

“I remember they came to watch another player, named Clinton Springer-Williams. Our team was playing his team. So they were watching for Clinton and I played really well that game,” Morrow recalls. “So [Campbell] contacted me through my high school coach. After that, they pretty much just recruited me all throughout my high school career after Grade 11.”

The 24 year-old rewarded the persistence of Campbell and his coaching staff. It was one of many reasons that Morrow chose to attend Western.

“Being home, it definitely was important to me because growing up as a kid, I always watched Western games and remember going to the games. My dad went to Western, my mom went to Western, my older sister went to Western,” Morrow says. “I was always a fan of Western and they were really the only ones that recruited me for a long time. I didn’t get recruited by any other school until Grade 13.”

Five seasons later, Morrow is one of the best university players in the country. The fifth-year senior has collected 1,382 points , 572 rebounds, 185 assists, and 90 steals in 94 career games played.

With numbers like that, it’s hard to believe that Morrow wasn’t recruited by more schools.

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The transition from high school to Ontario University Athletics basketball didn’t come without its challenges.

“I was impressed with how good the competition and level of play was in the [Canadian Interuniversity Sport] and OUA. It was a big learning experience, just dealing with the size and physicality, all the plays, how you play certain positions, how you adapt to how other teams play,” Morrow says.

The London native has enjoyed a successful collegiate career. In the 2013-14 season, the 24-year old was named an OUA West Second Team All-Star. The following season, the fifth-year senior was named an OUA First Team All-Star. But there’s still unfinished business for Morrow.

“It’s the last year for a lot of guys on the team. We have four fifth-year seniors,” he says. “We’re just trying to win as many games as we can, leave this season with no regrets, make some memories that we won’t forget, and hopefully get to the [CIS] Final Eight. That’s always been a goal and a dream of mine.”

While Morrow’s playing days with the Mustangs are drawing to a close, it may mark the beginning of a new career. Morrow plans to go pro and believes he still has a lot to give to the game.

“I just want to try to play basketball for pretty much as long as I can. I just know that my body still has the ability to keep playing basketball and I want to do it as long as my body lets me,” Morrow says.

The London native will leave Western with many memories. A road playoff win against the Lakehead Thunderwolves and a game-winning shot against the Windsor Lancers are amongst them.

But the fifth-year senior would like to leave the school with a lasting impact.

“I just want to help build a successful program that prides itself on winning and gets the community involved,” he says.

The full interview can be heard below:

The Revision

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Truly Blessed!!!

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I’m no Cleveland Cavaliers fan. I’m not from the state of Ohio. I’m not from the United States. I never expected myself to be happy for the town of Cleveland and state of Ohio when LeBron James announced his decision to return home.

However, after reading the fine article in Sports Illustrated by James as told by Lee Jenkins, it gave me chills and an even greater respect for one of my favourite players. Going back to Cleveland seemed like such an easy decision basketball-wise, yet that was not the main reason. Cleveland was James’ home and his heart never left.

For those that never leave home to go off to college, your hometown always has a place in your heart. It is where you grew up. It is where you made your best friends and enemies. It shapes you into the person you are today. You share that special connection together and it is a bond that money cannot buy.

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Straight Up! #StraightOuttaAkron @beatsbydre

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James was raised by a single mother in Akron, Ohio. It was where he played his AAU ball alongside his friends Sian Cotton, Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis, and Willie McGee. They attended St. Vincent-St.Mary High School where they continued to play basketball and won a State Championship.

High school was also the place where James turned to marijuana to help deal with the stress being placed onto him by the media.  In the 2008 documentary, “More Than a Game,” James and his teammates were followed from their AAU days throughout their high school careers.

It truly was more than just that. It was a brotherhood. It extended off the court where the boys would pick up one another when one was down. Until this day, the “Fab Five” remain very close as if James never left.

Akron was also where he met his high school sweet heart, Savannah Brinson. A hometown kid herself, the bright lights and beaches of Miami was nice, but it was not her thing. It just didn’t feel like home. “The LeBron James Family Foundation,” has been based in Akron since 2005 and promotes the importance and value of education.

Seeing James go off to South Beach was like a kid getting in a fight with his parents just before taking off to university. “The Decision” was a messy way to go out for a young 25 year-old man still trying to figure things out. Despite this, it was the right decision. He had to get away from home.

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As a university student, I grew up in ways that I wouldn’t have if I stayed at home. I am a better person because of it. As a member of the Miami Heat, James grew up and became a complete player. Offensively, he was more efficient and developed a post game. On the other side of the ball, James was as versatile of a defender in the league guarding multiple positions in the “small ball” employed by Coach Eric Spoelstra.

The Heat reached 4 straight final appearances in as many seasons. James won a pair of MVPs and championships. However, winning in a Heat jersey was bittersweet. Sure, James had the rings he had long strived for but the moment didn’t feel right.

After receiving the finals MVP in 2012, James said, “This right here is the happiest day of my life and I wouldn’t want to spend it with nobody else in the world besides my teammates, these fans. Oh my god you guys are unbelievable! And it’s a dream come true.”

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Thank you as well!! Memories I'll never forget.

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It was not at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. It was not at home in front of the friends and family who had watched him grow up, the only people who could truly relate to and appreciate what James has been through. Instead, we were hearing those words at American Airlines Arena in Miami, not exactly the life-long dream of “The kid from Akron.”

I can relate to Cleveland in many ways being from Toronto. The heartbreak and losing extends far beyond the 23 years of my existence on Earth. The Toronto Maple Leafs are working on a 47th season since their last Stanley Cup, the Toronto Raptors have won a single playoff series in 20 years, and it has been 23 years since Joe “touched them all.” Our cities don’t know what winning is. We’re starving for a winner and someone to get behind.

The time has never been better for James to come home. The local economy is in a terrible state. Businesses are closed down and boarded up. Half the stores within shopping malls are bankrupt. Aside from the casino downtown, it has become a ghost town in some parts.

The return of James will do wonders to help get the local economy back on track. It is important not to underestimate the power and influence of one person. I’ve seen it before my very eyes with Vince Carter.

There’s a whole generation of young Canadians playing basketball because of him. As I alluded to earlier, James’ foundation is based in Akron. His presence in the community will help keep kids out of trouble and off the streets.

James’ story is one that can inspire the next generation of kids to make something out of their lives. After all, he was in their same shoes not too long ago. James has changed his legacy. He was once viewed as selfish, only after rings. He was the villain.

Webster defines the word, “revision,” as a set of changes that correct or improves something. By returning home, James has completed the “revision.” His time in South Beach was James’ graduation from college and he’s more humble because of it.

James can now be the hero he dreamt of being as a young kid from Akron, Ohio. He can hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy in front of the people that mean the most. It wasn’t a mistake to leave four years ago. James just needed to undergo a “revision,” to make him realize that there’s no place like home.