Petsnick wins provincial level Character Award

Ken Kellar

A local athlete has been earned a prestigious award to help cap off her high school sports career.

It was announced by the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) that Fort Frances High School athlete Grace Petsnick is one of two recipients of the 2020 OFSAA Character Athlete Award. The award is given out each year to one male and one female student athlete in Ontario, who demonstrate the very best of sportsmanship.

“Once a year, OFSAA awards the Character Athlete Award to two recipients (one male, one female) who embody OFSAA’s values of leadership, commitment, equity, respect and sportsmanship,” the organizations says on its website.

“Nominations come to the OFSAA office detailing the exceptional character of student-athletes from across the province. This year’s recipients inspire those around them with their involvement on the playing field and in the classroom, in both school and community.”

Since the award’s inception in 2013 Petsnick is the first athlete to win the award in Northwestern Ontario, and is in fact the only person to win the award who lives farther afield from Toronto than North Bay. The recipients of the award each receive a commemorative plaque from OFSAA and a $1000 grant from Jostens, a company that specializes in memorabilia for high schools, colleges and sports, including championship rings for various sports leagues.

Fort Frances High School Girl’s basketball coach Gord McCabe submitted Petsnick’s nomination to the organization and noted that while it is not only a big deal that Petsnick won the award, she is also very deserving of it.

“I have known Grace for the last four years as her basketball coach, while she was a member of the Fort Frances HIgh School Junior and Senior basketball teams,” McCabe said.

“I have coached high school basketball since 1983, approximately half of that time was spent coaching girls and Grace has been easily the ‘best’ player I have ever coached. By ‘best’ I don’t only mean most talented but Grace was one of those rare players who always felt that team success, and along with that success of her teammates, was more important that her own individual success.”

McCabe explained that he, along with many of Petnick’s other coaches and mom Ange –who is McCabe’s assistant coach– contributed to the nomination, and said that across all of the sports she takes part in, even the ones that aren’t official school sports, she demonstrates the same levels of leadership, respect and commitment.

“She truly does appreciate the OFSAA mission statement of ‘Education through School Sport,’” McCabe said.

“She lives it. I have never nominated a player for this award before. I truly believe that if Grace had grown up in Southern Ontario, with better coaching and more importantly, the opportunity to compete at a high level, she would be a top-flight athlete entertaining scholarship offers from U.S. universities. She is a special athlete, a special person.”

As for Petsnick herself, winning the award came as a surprise, especially because she hadn’t been told she was being nominated.

“I found out about it a couple of days ago,” Petsnick explained.

“I wasn’t really aware that I was nominated for it. My mom is very active in everything I do, so her and my coach kind of took care of everything. My coach nominated me, wrote whatever he wrote about me, then my mom just said ‘Hey, guess what? You won this award.’”

Even with the surprise announcement, Petsnick said she’s very excited to win it, especially with the way her last high school sports season has played out.

“[Winning the award] was pretty incredible, and my mom let me know that I was the only one this side of North Bay to win that award, so that was kind of mind-blowing,” she explained.

“To some extent, it kind of made up for my seasons being cut short. It was really just track season I’m missing out on, but that’s what I enjoy doing the most, that’s where I feel really powerful, really comfortable in that setting and it was pretty upsetting to have that taken away, but hearing I won this award and I’m being recognized for everything that I’ve done, it made it a little better.”

Petsnick explained that when it comes to sportmanship, it becomes a blend of keeping it in mind while playing, but also just a part of who she is as an athlete.

“We are just teenagers, this isn’t the big league although it seems really important to us in the moment,” she said.

“It’s not the end of the world if anything happens, so I remind my teammates that, and I’ve stepped in for any disagreements or little fights that break out on the court or off the court, make sure everyone’s respecting the other players. It’s really all just fun. That’s all sports is to me. There’s no use getting upset about anything. Recognizing other people’s skills, that’s a huge thing for me too. Letting my team know, ‘hey, that was a really good play, you’re getting really good at that’ or even the other team, I’m like ‘wow, that was pretty intense.’”

As a graduating grade 12 student, the award marks the end of a successful high school sports career, and while Petsnick said she’s likely going to keep playing recreationally, she has a full plate for next year as it is.

“I’ve been accepted to Queen’s university,” she said.

“Judging by how the whole situation goes on I’ll probably be doing online schooling next year for my first year. My BA is Arts and Humanities. I’m thinking mostly just recreational, just staying active. I might try and walk on somewhere just to see what happens. With the cost of school alone and the time commitment and everything, it’s probably just going to be recreational for me.”

Regardless of how and when Petsnick takes to the courts and fields again, she noted that she wouldn’t have gotten to where she is without the help and support of those around her.

“I’m very grateful for everyone who supported me throughout my high school career, and brought me to the level that I’m at,” she said.

“I couldn’t have done it without all of my coaches and my teachers, of course, understanding that I was playing a lot of sports. I’m just really grateful for everyone who’s been part of this journey with me.”