Smithers female student denied access to high school sports due to flawed BC sport governance system

Press Release


A teenage girl from northern BC has been denied access to high school sport due to a flaw in the BC School Sports governance system.

Fiona Sullivan is from the rural village of Hazelton, BC, which has an approximate population of 300 people. In her grade 10 year, she started taking five classes within District 54 in Smithers (75kms away) she needed to apply to post secondary, which were unavailable at home. Also an elite-level wrestler, Fiona qualified for Nationals in February 2020 before the pandemic shut down all sport competitions.

During her time in Smithers Fiona discovered their Sport School – a unique program run by Engage Sport North in partnership with School District 54 that allows student athletes to blend academic studies with high performance training.

Fiona was accepted to this program, however due to the timing of her move, a bylaw with BC School Sports disqualified her from competing in high school sports in this 2021-2022 school year. Not only in her sport of wrestling, but also in soccer and volleyball.

“Attending the Sport School was a beacon of hope for Fiona, a way to achieve both her athletic and academic dreams,” says Tim Sullivan, Fiona’s father. “We haven’t yet been able to relocate to Smithers, so she moved on her own with a billet family. School sports are more than just competing for her, sports keeps her focused on her health and mental well-being, they are what drive her, they are how she makes friends and they are how she manages the immense stress of living away from her family.”

Funded in part by the Ministry of Education, BC School Sports is responsible for governing high school sport in our province. They have a bylaw that does not allow a student to transfer to another school after grade 9 and compete in school sports in that year for a full 12 months.

We understand the need for this bylaw in urban centres to keep the sports system fair, however it does not take into consideration the inequity of sport opportunities in the North,” says Matthew Monkman, Assistant Superintendent of Schools for SD54. “There is no competitive edge to gain in Fiona’s transfer. The programs she needs access to aren’t available in her home community.”

Fiona’s family, with support from both her departing and new secondary school, local sports advocates and the local MP, filed a number of appeals, all of which have been denied. 

“The reason we opened Sport Schools in northern BC was to reduce barriers and provide access and opportunities for northern athletes to excel in sport and academics,” explains Mandi Graham, Executive Director of Engage Sport North. “It is difficult for everyone involved when an athlete is punished by a sport system that has not evolved to reflect the current education system, which attempts to provide equity of access to all students in all areas of our province. It is particularly unsettling that there is no school or body opposing this request – only the blind application of a BCSS bylaw where the full context is not being taken into consideration.”

Engage Sport North is championing this issue as the operator of the northern BC Sport Schools, and the provincially-appointed body responsible for the standards of athlete programming, coach development, physical literacy and sport inclusion in the North. 

“Engage Sport North will continue to speak up for Fiona’s participation in sport at Smithers Secondary School. Her story represents the plight of so many high-performing athletes in BC and across Canada who could be the next Olympian in our sport pathway, but more importantly, it highlights the critical need to facilitate inclusive sport involvement to build relationships, foster healthy mental and physical states and build communities,” added Graham.

“We hope that by sharing this story, we can help Fiona and her family advocate for an equitable sports governance system for all of BC.”

Media Contact:
Mandi Graham