ABBOTSFORD — There’s an old saying about how easy it is to miss the silver linings if all you expect to find is gold.
Sion Griffiths will admit that he’s always carried a pretty high standard in his dual-sport life, whether he’s flying around on the rugby pitch or at a meet launching a javelin on its initial upward arc towards the heavens.
Yet when all was said and done last Saturday afternoon, when the standout-out student-athlete from Vancouver Island’s Brentwood College had tugged taut the official bow on his high school sports career, his expression spoke to an appreciation of what the big picture is really all about.
“It was a good weekend,” stated Griffiths as he came off the rugby pitch at Abbotsford’s Rotary Stadium after scoring a try in his team’s 45-31 loss to West Vancouver’s Collingwood Cavaliers in the B.C. Double-A Tier 1 championship final.
“No, it’s not what I wanted for the boys,” continued Griffiths, a speedy starting wing who helped Brentwood to its second straight silver-medal finish at provincials. “But we came back in the second half and we showed Collingwood that if we had 20 more minutes, things might have been different.”
Just then, he’s reminded of his other accomplishment from the weekend, that silver medal he won for Brentwood College in the senior boys javelin two days earlier.
“I was just happy to get a medal in my last year,” he admitted. “I’m happy to be able to medal in both because just to be able to play two sports at the provincials is a huge honour.”
Yet what if those two sports, the ones you train for all year long, happen to have their provincial championship finals at virtually the same time?
Back in the fall, Sion Griffiths thought there might be chance he could compete in both, yet he balanced all of that with a healthy dose of realism.
What if the schedules didn’t work out?
What if he got hurt?
What if he didn’t qualify in both?
Instead, he just decided to trust in his journey and get the most out of what his senior year had to offer.
So as our 2017-18 B.C. high school sports season comes to a close, we offer up this story of a young man who battled through a lot of curveballs, accrued a ton of karma through his hard work, and in the end discovered that silver linings are worth their weight in gold.
WHATEVER IT TAKES
If there is a maturity to Griffiths’ outlook, you can trace it to good, old-fashioned experience.
Last season, a knee injury wiped out his chance of competing in either of is two specialty high school championships, including rugby where Brentwood College advanced to the title game without him but fell to Victoria’s SMUS Blue Jags.
Later that summer, however, despite his ability to get a good run-up due to the massive knee brace he was forced to wear, Griffiths won bronze in the javelin at the Canadian Legion national championships in Brandon.
That set the stage for this 2017-18 school year.
Once again, the two provincial championships were scheduled to begin within a day of each other and conflicts were bound to occur.
Yet the driving distance from the rugby site in Abbotsford to Langley’s McLeod Stadium was 30 minutes.
That was the blessing, and if the scheduling gods were on board, it could happen.
“But then two months ago, I broke two metacarpals on my (right) hand,” says Griffiths, still choked by the timing. “We were on a spring break rugby tour in San Francisco.
“I went to ankle tap another player and I caught him way too hard,” Griffiths explains of his attempt at a shoe-string tackle gone awry. “I just kept on playing with it for another 15 minutes or so, but it got stepped on, and it started twitching.”
When the team returned home, Griffiths got the hand checked out and x-rays revealed the breaks near both the thumb and index finger.
“The surgeon told me my rugby season was over,” says Griffiths. “I am supposed to go see him next week to get cleared for rugby, but the provincials were this week so I just decided that I would play.”
Take one glance at photo of Griffiths in action during last Saturday’s B.C. title match against Collingwood and the wrap on his tender right hand is clearly visible.
Yet while he found a way to get on the rugby pitch, in his solitary sport of javelin, where he throws with his right hand, there was still the question of trying to qualifying for provincials when he couldn’t even grip the projectile.
And so when the call to compete came early on in his recovery, Griffiths was forced to think outside the box just to keep his championship dreams alive.
The Mid-Island championship meet, May 1-2 in Duncan, couldn’t be skipped. In fact a top-five finish was needed there just to advance to the Vancouver Island championships two weeks later in Port Alberni.
So what did Griffiths do?
“I went to the Mid-Islands and I qualified by throwing with my left hand,” he says matter-of-factly. “I needed to be top five and I think I finished fourth.”
In his mind, he just did what he had to do, and he didn’t hit social media afterwards tell everyone what he had done. He’s refreshingly old-school that way.
“This is more than I knew about his story,” admits UBC head track and field coach Laurier Primeau who welcomes Griffiths into the ‘Birds program next season as one of its top recruits. “To hear that part really speaks to his desire and his willingness to fight through adversity.”
Desire. Willingness. And the fact that time helps heal all wounds.
Put them all together, and two weeks after his south-paw miracle, Griffiths headed to Port Alberni for the Island meet where he was now back to throwing with his right hand.
There was, of course, no shortage of drama.
Griffiths moved from second to first on his final throw of the competition, a walk-off effort of 53.47 metres that ticketed him as one of the favourites two weeks down the road at the B.C. championships in Langley.
He was finally healthy enough, but was the kid who missed the meet last year with his knee injury, even going to get the chance to compete as a senior?
TRIUMPH IN THE 11TH HOUR
Last Thursday afternoon, somewhere around 3 p.m., Sion’s dad, Brentwood College track and field coach Dewi Griffiths, got in touch with the school’s volleyball coach Jill Fougner who was in Abbotsford at the rugby championships.
“He texted me from the track and I told him that we had just finished our game,” Fougner recalled of the fact that Brentwood had just beaten arch-rival St. Michael’s University School 36-10 in its B.C. semifinal match, thus insuring the only school in B.C. high school sports without a nickname of at least a silver medal regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s final.
“The javelin competition had just started,” Fougner continued. “We just said ‘Let’s go for it.’”
So with Fougner piloting a van and figuring she was about 30 minutes away from Langley’s McLeod Athletic Park, both she and Sion hit the road.
“When I looked at the maps, it said 30 minutes, but I know the area and I got there in 22 minutes,” Fougner laughed. “We pulled into a side parking lot. Sion knew exactly where the javelin was taking place. It was a drop-and-run. He sprinted across the field.”
Fougner described Griffiths as “very laid back” over the commute. The pair talked some rugby, and before they had arrived in Langley, Griffiths had swapped his rugby game jersey with a Brentwood rugby t-shirt.
Yet he was in such a rush that he didn’t even bring his own javelin, and if you study the photograph of him throwing the javelin, you’ll notice he’s wearing the same shorts he wore in his rugby matches.
Not bad for a kid who was competing with a broken right hand that is not yet fully healed, who was also coming off a half-hour car ride having just played as a starter in a provincial rugby semifinal match, and was repping with someone else’s javelin.
Riverside’s Jarrett Chong, a Grade 11 who won the B.C. JV title last spring and the Legion national title over the summer, was excellent, and on his second-to-final throw uncorked the 55.47-metre effort that won him the gold medal.
All Griffiths did after sprinting over the track and through the stadium infield to join the competition was to improve on each and every one of his five throws.
From 45.6m to start, he hit 52.22m on his final throw to sew up the silver.
“I have to give a shout-out to the Brentwood staff who helped facilitate this,” said Primeau. “I can tell you this, so many other coaches wouldn’t have let this happen.”
To Primeau, the willingness of the student and the co-operation of the school’s staff took him back to his turn-of-the-century days as the high school track coach at Vancouver’s St. George’s School.
There, co-operation between the rugby and track teams helped two-sport athletes have their best chance to compete at both provincial meets when they were staged annually and concurrently at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium (rugby) and Burnaby’s Swangard Stadium (track and field).
And then there is the student-athlete himself.
“He was not only composed,” said Primeau of Griffiths, “but I like the idea that he is such a team player, that he wants to do his best for his school in multiple sports.”
If ever you ask yourself why high school sports are not only important, but uniquely different from all other manner of youth sport development systems, this is why.
In the end, we never question why it is that our special student-athletes want to go the extra mile.
It’s because when the system is working, it creates its own selfless collective, and from that place, great things always seem to happen.
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