By CLAUDE SCILLEY
He’s a driven young man. He wants to study at Queen’s University. He wants to play basketball at the intercollegiate level.
Joanna Belfer has some advice for anyone who doubts Tyler Bark’s ability to achieve those lofty goals: Don’t bet against it.
“He won’t take no for an answer,” said Belfer, a teacher at Queen Elizabeth Collegiate and Bark’s coach with the senior Raiders basketball team.
“He’s got goals and he’s taking all the right steps to make sure where he wants to be in five years, is where he’s going to be in five years.”
Lots of teachers say lots of kind, positive, supportive things about the young people in their charge. They’re supposed to. Encouragement comes with the territory. In the case of Tyler Bark, however, the evidence is convincing, even to the most skeptical ear. This a young man who, in the past three years, has not only overcome a serious leg injury to return to the game he loves, but lost about 120 pounds in order to put him in a position to be the best at playing it that he can be.
Few people would recognize Bark today, had they seen him only as a lumbering 300-pound high school junior with big hair struggling to get up the basketball court, mostly unable to keep up with the other players. Two years later, Belfer almost didn’t, and she’d taught him in Grade 9.
In the summer between Grades 9 and 10, Bark hyper-extended his leg at a basketball camp, suffering what the doctors called a tibial plateau fracture. “The growth plate on my tibia ripped right off,” Bark explained, in layman’s terms.
Surgery was required to repair the damage, followed by an extensive course of physiotherapy. “A lot of range-of-motion type of stuff, stretching, the elyptical bike,” he said. The hardest part? “The waiting,” he says, “to get back to 100 per cent.”
After four months of rehab, the end was in sight. It probably took six months, Bark figures, to be back to normal. “I just persevered,” he says, “knowing it was going to be worth it, eventually.”
In that time, however, Bark had come to a conclusion. The old Tyler no longer qualified as 100 per cent, and that prompted him to undertake the next phase of what was no longer just recovery from a serious injury, but a metamorphosis. He was too big and he knew it. “I just wanted to eat better,” he said, as if it was as easy as it sounds.
Perhaps to a person of Bark’s conviction, it was that easy. He dropped 120 pounds. “I just wanted to get better,” he said, with barely a shrug to acknowledge the magnitude of his accomplishment. “I wanted to be the best basketball player I could be; get a scholarship to a good school and lead that team to a championship.”
Belfer recalled that time when Bark was rehabbing his injury. “It was quite a recovery process for him,” she said, “but in a way I think it kind of sparked something deep inside him.
“I don’t want to say ever that it was a positive thing, because any injury of that magnitude is not, but I really do believe it sparked something inside him. He realized how much he missed basketball and how much he wanted to improve.”
No question, there was room for improvement.
“To see the kid you see now and the kid you saw two years ago, you honestly wouldn’t know you’re looking at the same person,” Belfer said. “In Grade 10 he could barely move up and down the court. He was the slowest person, by far. He really has worked hard at recovering and that injury kind of sparked him, somehow, to make the changes he needed to make to be as successful at the sport as he is.”
Belfer suspects it wasn’t necessarily the desire to lose weight that drove Bark. It was more likely a happy by-product of his love of playing basketball. “He started playing a lot of basketball and a few pounds came off,” she said, “and he started to realize, ‘Ooh, I can move a lot better now,’ and it kind of re-motivated him.
“He’s always loved the game and he wanted to be the best basketball player he can be. Once he lost 10, 15, 20 pounds and started to realize, ‘Wait a second, before I couldn’t get out to who I was defending and now I can,’ or ‘They would just blow past me, and now I’m starting to keep up.’ That just re-motivated him to keep going.”
That Bark would display such determination did not surprise Belfer. “I’ve always known that he has tremendous work ethic,” she said, “and you know that from every aspect of his life, not just basketball. It translates into his schooling. He’s in class every single day, he works really hard, he takes his marks and his schooling very seriously. He works very hard to get the highest marks he can get.
“I’ve always known that about him. When he wants to do something, he’ll do it.”
It’s a long way, though, from the single-A basketball team at QE to a university program, even for a fellow who has scored 20 points and more in games this year, and has been his team’s top scorer in games against the best teams in the league. Bark will be back in high school next year—at Loyalist Collegiate, where the QE kids will go while their new school is being built—and his coach is convinced he will take the opportunity to position himself for success.
“Regardless of what obstacles are put in front of him, he’ll work as hard as he needs to, to earn a place on that (university) team,” Belfer said. “Whatever role that looks like in the first couple of years, he’ll stick with it and he’ll wait it out, until his real opportunity arises.
“I do think he’ll play at the next level.”
When it happens, it will reward Bark’s refusal to give up the game when his injury—not to mention his girth—made it seem such ambition was excessive.
“Never,” says Bark, now a trim 180 pounds, when asked whether he ever entertained thoughts of abandoning the game. “It’s what drives me. I couldn’t imagine giving up basketball.
“It was a mountain to climb, for sure, but now that I’m non top of it, it’s nice.”
Play resumes in the Kingston Area Secondary Schools Athletic Association Tuesday after a two-week break for first semester final exams. In what is perhaps the most significant game, the Regiopolis Notre Dame Panthers will visit Frontenac in what could possibly be a playoff preview.
The Falcons and Panthers have followed similar paths this year. After winning its first three games of the season, Regi then lost three in a row and the Panthers go into the final week of the regular schedule 4-3. After winning its first four contests, Frontenac lost two in a row, but the Falcons go into their season finale 6-2.
Elsewhere, Queen Elizabeth, 3-5, visits Sydenham, 5-3, and league-leading Holy Cross, which goes into its final game of the regular year 8-0, travels to Napanee, whose Golden Hawks are 3-4.