Cory Farthing still gets chills when he remembers the first tournament he played at RJC, and the moment when the school’s fans started to cheer. He was there for the volleyball invitational tournament as a student from Evan Hardy Collegiate in Saskatoon. “[It] was mind blowing to a city kid to walk into that gym,” he says. “That still gives me the willies. That feeling of that whole crowd doing the RJC chant. When you’re not an RJC kid, that’s pretty intimidating.”
Years later he would be back in the same gym hosting that very tournament as the coach at RJC. Cory was the biology teacher and volleyball coach at RJC for 10 years, starting in 1998. It was his first full-time teaching job. Even though he had wanted a job teaching in the city, and had no connections with the school, he took the spot at RJC.
“Those are pretty foundational years,” he says of his time at the school. They made him both a better teacher and a better coach. Before RJC, “I knew how to coach but I didn’t really learn how to be a good coach. At least not the coach that I wanted to be. I worked on my craft a lot and had lots of athletes to work with in track and volleyball. I got a lot out of that.”
It was his first year at the school when the boys volleyball team won gold at provincials. It was both a highlight as a coach, and then a hard legacy to follow. While there were some star athletes that year, he says the team owed their victory to the bond the players shared — they played for each other, not just for themselves. “Oxbow had more talented players than us at the time,” he says of the team they defeated in the finals, “but I can definitely say that the team outplayed the other team. And it’s because of what we had done throughout the year. Working hard together, supporting each other.”
That kind of bond is what Cory believes makes a great team.
When players are able to work from a foundation of strong relationships their teamwork and passion will transcend the abilities of each individual player. “When you can build that trust and that relationship outside of the actual sport, you can take a group of kids… and you can often have them outperform their ability,” he says. “They will play for each other rather than for themselves.”
Those connections are what he tried to foster as a coach with things like the team dinners he started. After tournaments he’d get the keys to the dining hall and bring the students in together for a meal. Those relationships come more naturally at a school like RJC that has a strong community. Cory appreciated how it wasn’t just the players that were invested in the game, but the whole school would get behind the teams. “We always used to talk when I was on staff about community, that sense of community is one of the cornerstones of RJC,” he says. “For me coaching that was definitely evident. Not only do you get this group of guys who are really keen and passionate about volleyball, the whole school got behind all of the teams.”
For Cory, another meaningful part of coaching at RJC was seeing how those relationships translated to the classroom.
When students got to know him as a coach it changed the way they worked with him in the classroom. “You can reach kids on a whole different level on a court, or in a field or on a track. That connection can be so much more powerful,” he says. He taught some athletes who weren’t normally strong students, but who were able to do well in his class. It wasn’t because he favoured them, but because of their existing relationship. “There’s a different kind of vulnerability that teachers have when they’re coaching. When kids can see a passion in a teacher or a mentor or an adult, it’s really contagious.”
While some teachers are energized by helping their students learn new concepts in the classroom, it was building connections and working with athletes that Cory found most meaningful during his time at RJC. When he was frustrated with marking, or wasn’t as inspired with content, “I got so much energy from coaching, from those teams, and from those kids. That carried me through.”