Volume 12 Week 5

Tuesday, April 10


Updated July 221

Orléans Ward
Bob Monette

Posted Feb. 17

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Orléans Ward
Bob Monette




(Posted 6:30 a.m., Apr. 24)
St. Matts 'Bear Hug' puts the squeeze on record books
By Fred Sherwin
Orleans Online

St. Matthew High School principal Andre Potvin holds up the trophy presented to the school for their effort in breaking the world bear hug record while raising over $90,000 in the process. Fred Sherwin/Photo

They came on foot, by car and by bus. Thousands of students gathered at St. Matthew High School on Friday, united in their desire to set a world record while raising tens of thousands of dollars for cancer research.

They began lining up along Bilberry Drive shortly after 10 a.m. By 10:30 a.m. the lineup went down Jeanne d'Arc Blvd. to Orléans Blvd. and then down Orléans Blvd. to Sugar Creek Way.

By 10:45 a.m. the circle was completed as more students lined up behind Divine Infant Catholic Church, down into the Bilberry Creek ravine and up the other side to join up with the group from Sugar Creek Way. At five to 11, dozens of late comers could be seen running along the line looking for a spot where they could fill in.

And then the moment of truth drew near. As the horn sounded everyone grabbed each other around the waist in an unbroken chain. Young, old, big small, 5,024 people in all. They hugged for 37 seconds under a brilliant blue sky while a police helicopter circled high above videotaping and taking pictures of the record breaking attempt.

When the horn sounded a second time it was all over. Four weeks of planning and fundraising had culminated with the world's largest bear hug and the largest amount of money ever raised by a Canadian high school for a single event – $90,000 and still counting. All the money will go to help fund the work carried out by the Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre.

Not surprisingly, St. Matthew principal Andre Potvin was brimming with pride over the effort put in by his staff and students in doing what no other high school in Canada had ever done before.

"This is awesome. I'm totally overwhelmed over what we've been able to accomplish," said Potvin. "The kids have just blown this apart."

The 1,400 or so students at St. Matts were joined by 30 bus loads of students from St. Peter High School; hundreds of other students from Lester B. Pearson High School and St. Pius High School in the west end; elementary students from Divine Infant, Chapel Hill, Convent Glen and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Schools and over 900 people from the general public.

The video tape and pictures will be sent to the folks at the Guinness Book of World Records who will pour over the images and verify the record breaking attempt. What made the effort even more incredible is the fact that it all came together over the past four weeks.

Siblings Joel, Aaron, Taylor and Devin Philliben joing their mother Treva (right) as they take part in Friday's record breaking Bear Hug attempt at St. Matts High School. Fred Sherwin/Photo

The Bear Hug was supposed to take place next month on Parliament Hill and involve over 30 high schools. Logistically the event wasn't working out and the organizers were ready to pull the plug. That's when St. Matts came into the picture.

"They came to us and said, 'No. no. You have to do it'. That's when we decided to do it here and they have been fantastic," said Monique Amyot, co-chair of The Force, a one year campaign to raise money for the Cancer Research Centre which came up with the idea for the Bear Hug.

The ball was picked up by St. Matts' guidance councillor Pat McNulty who first sold the idea to Potvin and then had to convince his colleagues.

Phys Ed teacher Pete Lamothe recalls when the idea was first unveiled at a staff meeting about four weeks ago.

"He started talking about forming committees and setting a record and we all just looked at each other and said, 'There's no way'. This is the busiest time of the year. While all this was going on we had to get our marks in for report cards," said Lamothe. "But as things got going it started to catch fire. In the first week we raised $10,000 and then by the end of the second week it was up to $36,000. And then this week it was just crazy. On Monday, the kids brought in over $7,000. On Tuesday it was $9,000. And on Wednesday they raised over $10,000. It kept going up and up and up."

A large part of why the students have been so dedicated to the effort is the fact that two of their fellow students are presently fighting their own battle with cancer. Eighteen-year-old Erin Gannon and Grade 10 student Liam Gallagher could not be at the Bear Hug due to complications resulting from their illnesses.

Erin's sister Liana did take part, however. The Grade 10 student brought in the largest number of pledges among her fellow students totaling $1,595.

Asked what it felt like to be part of such a huge undertaking, Liana said it was hard to put her feelings into words.

"It's an incredible feeling to see so many people support cancer research," said Liana. "It feels pretty good."

"I've never been in a world record before. It's really cool, especially doing it to help cancer research," added Grade 7 student Christopher Hollink whose grandfather died of cancer.

After the Bear Hug, Amyot presented McNulty and Potvin with a giant silver cup she said was the Stanley Cup the Ottawa Senators didn't win.

In accepting the trophy, Potvin said he would find a special place for it after all the students have had a chance to touch it.

"We're so happy with what St. Matts has done in coming forward and helping to put this on. What it should tell us is that if you have a dream never, ever give up. We are the force and everything is possible," said Amyot.

As the last of the students filled back into the school, a thrilled but relieved McNulty tried to sum up the record breaking effort and whether or not he thought it would ever be broken.

"I think every school has it in them if they pull together and focus on one thing and act on it, anything is possible," said McNulty.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

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