Bigras breaks barriers

By: Scott Haddow – Straight Up Sports

 | Apr 16, 2014 - 10:15 AM |
Ecole secondaire Hanmer student Renée Bigras isn't one of the boys, but she can play as well as any, and better than most. Photo by Scott Haddow

Ecole secondaire Hanmer student Renée Bigras isn't one of the boys, but she can play as well as any, and better than most. Photo by Scott Haddow

Hanmer High athlete takes the game to the boys, and inspires others to do the same

Renée Bigras never said a word — she was going to let her actions do the talking for her.

Bigras had just stepped out onto a gymnasium floor at a rival’s school for a volleyball game. The opponents laughed at her and hurled out insults. She absorbed the taunting; it was nothing new. She has faced it throughout her high school sports career at Ecole secondaire Hanmer.

Bigras stepped up to serve. The mocking continued from the opponents. Bigras served up three straight aces. The opponents went silent. Hanmer went on to win the game.

Bigras was playing boys’ senior volleyball, the first girl to play for boys’ teams at the school. She earned her way onto the senior boys basketball team as a Grade 10 student when there was no girls’ team assembled.

She played for the team again as a Grade 11 student. But this school year, Bigras was the captain — of both the boys and girls senior volleyball teams.

Originally, Bigras wanted to play basketball. When the school couldn't field a girls team, she did the next best thing — went out and earned a spot on the senior boys’ squad, starting a change in the culture of high school sports.

“I had my mind set I was going to do it and I did,” the 17-year-old said. “Nothing was going to stop me.”

Bigras didn’t just make the boys senior basketball team — she became an impact player and leader, helping the team win its first NOSSA banner in a decade in 2013.

Then, she led the boys senior volleyball team to a silver medal at this season’s NOSSA B championship. Not surprisingly, Bigras was named the school’s Female Athlete of the Year in 2013 and is on her way to earning those honours again this year.

“Renée has changed everything,” Hanmer teacher and coach Anne Blanchette said. “She broke the barrier for girls and boys playing together at our school. 

“Not just with the boys, but coaches, too. She has inspired other students to do more, boys and girls. There were two girls who played senior boys’ volleyball this year because of Renée.”

Senior boys’ basketball coach Michael McNeely has always had an open mind when it comes to boys and girls competing in the same sport against one another. Bigras only re-enforced his belief.

“There is no quit in her,” McNeely said. “She has been a role model not just for the girls in our school, but for everyone.

“She never looked out of place playing against the boys. On most occasions, she was one of our best players and numerous times she was our leading scorer. She put the team on her shoulders and just goes.”

Bigras endured a lot of crude remarks in games against the competition. Eventually, it would stop as she asserted herself in games and made it known she was a real player and not a joke. It actually helped fuel her desire to prove her doubters wrong.

“I just tried to ignore what other players said,” Bigras said. “The more they would say stuff, the more it would make me angry. (Coach) Blanchette had told me to expect it, but it was still hard to hear.

“After a while, I got used to it and used it to my advantage, I got tougher and that made me a better player.”

Bigras also had physical challenges to overcome against the boys. She stands 5-2. She used her pure athleticism, speed and big heart counter the size difference against boys who were, at times, more than a foot taller and outweighed her by as much as 100 pounds.

Bigras never expected to be given special treatment.

“Nobody wanted to cover me in basketball because I was a girl,” she said. “I had to learn to deal with big opponents. They hit me and I hit them right back. Nobody was going to touch me. Earning respect, that was the hardest part.”

Bigras is a proud member of her high school. She serves on the athletic council and is involved in organizing tournaments, fundraising and in-school activities. What makes her feel her best is knowing she has done everything she can to help make her school successful.

“Winning the NOSSA B basketball championship is my favourite moment because people had to look at our team differently,” Bigras said. “Usually, because our school is small, we are not taken seriously and I think since a girl was playing, it made that even worse, but when we won, it changed the way they looked at us.”

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