Vancouver teacher hip to square

Ray Brendzy encourages sports, participation and square dancing

Steve Coffin couldn’t let his teaching and coaching colleague Ray Brendzy retire without highlighting Brendzy’s contributions to school spirit, sports and square dancing.

His nomination saw Brendzy win a Vancouver Elementary Physical Activity Association Career Achievement Award Jan. 30.

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“He was a shoo-in,” said Coffin, who teaches Grades 3 and 4 at Sir John Franklin elementary school on Skeena Street near East Hastings.

Ron Brandolini from Sir Wilfred Grenfell elementary also received the award.

Brendzy has coached soccer, cross-country running, track and field, volleyball and basketball. If one of his teams is winning by a wide margin, he gets them to, for example, perform layups with their left hands and pass to students who haven’t scored.

How do students feel about that?

“They like it,” Coffin said. “Everybody seems to buy into his system.”

Brendzy is proud to have seen so many of his students participate in school sports.

“That’s been the fun for me to be able to say I had everyone in my class participating, or 90 per cent of school in track and field,” Brendzy said. “It’s all about lifelong skills and showing the students that it’s important to participate, live a healthy life and be active.”

Coffin noted Brendzy, a Vancouver School Board teacher of nearly 35 years, nurtured leadership skills in Grade 7 students by having them organize the school’s sports day.

Brendzy is considered one of the top three square dance callers in Canada and one of the top 10 in the world. He served as square dancing consultant to the VEPAA for approximately 15 years, developed the VSB’s square dance curriculum and provided workshops to teachers.

Brendzy’s parents dragged him to square dancing when he was seven.

“It didn’t take long before I was hooked,” he said.

“Where else do you get to hold the hand of a girl that has to hold your hand when you’re unsure of yourself?”

Brendzy competed in the Pacific Northwest Teen Square Dance Festival, became a trainer, took a sabbatical when he married and then instructed again when his daughter and son were old enough to do-si-do. Now some of his Franklin students compete.   

Brendzy has taken his students kayaking, canoeing and rappelling at Strathcona Park Lodge on Vancouver Island for more than 30 years and led fundraisers to finance the trips.   

He has led an annual afternoon of dance for every class, parents and sometimes the preschool, for more than 30 years, boosting school spirit.

“That’s how we survive, the importance of all your kids in the school getting together and being nice to each other and appreciating each other makes the school experience so much for successful for everybody,” he said.

“Thirty-five years have gone by incredibly fast,” Brendzy said. “I was thinking that I was receiving an award for something that I’m so passionate about I don’t even consider it work or extra effort; in fact, those are the things that make me want to be a teacher, just having the opportunity to do those things has made my life more fun, more fulfilling.”

The 57-year-old continues to lead dancers in Burnaby and New Westminster four nights a week.

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