By Darren Lum
Standing in front of the mural wall of athletes on the side of the A.J. LaRue Arena, Grade 8 J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School student Cheyenne Degeer said learning about Lesley Tashlin, an Olympian that was raised in Haliburton opened her eyes to what is possible for her.
“That was kind of shocking [to find out there was] an Olympic athlete from this town – a pretty small town – that I never heard of,” she said. “I realized girls from Haliburton can actually achieve a high level in sports. Unfortunately, they can’t be recognized for it, apparently.”
This was her feeling after hearing about Mayor Andrea Roberts’ suggestion that there wouldn’t be any more athletes added to the mural wall at the last virtual meeting for the Dysart Cultural Resource Committee, which concluded with the formation of a sub-committee to investigate the possibility of adding athletes.
Cheyenne said she was in disbelief about the resistance and had felt her dream to be added to the wall for her potential future achievements end with the discouraging comments from the mayor.
She remembers thinking, “What about me?”
Cheyenne is part of the Grade 7 and 8 class, who have been working to add Black athletes, Tashlin and former CFLer Taly Williams to the A.J. LaRue Arena mural. Currently, there are five paintings, depicting five white, male athletes.
She said before learning about Tashlin, the mural wall wasn’t something she had thought too much about.
The teen doesn’t discount the achievement of the athletes currently on the wall, but recognizes there are additional challenges that face women in sport.
“Obviously it’s not easy to make the NHL, but they didn’t have to go through what women in sports had to go through,” she said.
The class is asking local residents who may be out during essential travel trips, to take selfies in front of the mural wall with #OurMurality #HerTrackHisField and post it to Instagram.
Marina Thomazo, a teacher at JDHES, said the social media push was about empowering her students, who are on social media platforms already, challenging one another through media platform TikTok.
“Well, I said, let’s do something different. So I just wanted the kids to not think about their worries, just think about something we could achieve together like a main goal that [isn’t only] focused on all the negative things we hear in the news, because that’s all we hear. It’s just challenging them to try to create awareness that this is what we’re trying to accomplish and those kids are young. They could make a difference,” she said.
Thomazo said after the first council meeting about the proposal to add the athletes to the wall the students were discouraged, but after the Cultural Resource Committee meeting there was a resolve to work harder.
“I even had one girl that cried because she thought they don’t want this to happen, but this time they felt challenged. Like, OK, we proved they are from here. We have proven also that they achieved … and they still do not want to accept or do not want to move ahead. They felt challenged and, OK, what’s next? That’s the social media piece that came that we need to do that challenge on Instagram.”
From the students’ perspective, if it’s about money, they’re willing to do the work to raise the $20,000 sum expected to cover expenses for a mural with a GoFundMe, the teacher said.
Thomazo said the Cultural Resource Committee meeting, from her perspective, didn’t start well. She took exception to the mayor’s comments and felt really sad for her students, who expressed their disappointment, but have since been emboldened to work harder.
For students and youth like Cheyenne this effort is not just about adding athletes, as it is about recognizing and inspiring others like her.
“I’ve never been able to drive past the arena and look at a girl and be able to say girls can achieve something in this town. And I think that would be really special,” she said.