During a moving ceremony at the Alumni Celebration of Basketball, Simon Ibell ’96 and his family announced an extraordinary gift that pays tribute to an inspiring teacher and coach.
by Laura Authier
It all began with a mother’s simple pledge: “my son is going to live a life of inclusion.” Marie Ibell was under no illusion that this would be easy. Her son, Simon, had been diagnosed with a rare genetic disease called Mucopolysaccharidosis II (MPS II). The disease was interfering with the development and functions of Simon’s skeletal and cardio-pulmonary systems, stunting his growth, restricting movement in his joints and causing respiratory problems. As Simon approached his teens, the physical differences from other boys his age became more evident. Marie looked for a school that would give Simon the space to be who he was while helping him develop the skills he would need to live his challenging life to its fullest. St. Michaels University School became that place.
Now more than 20 years later, Simon is back at the school, with Marie by his side and sister Olivia ’99 cheering on from her home in Toronto. Simon has returned many times since graduating in 1996 but this occasion is special. Tonight he is bringing his SMUS experience full circle. He starts by acknowledging the people whose attention and care in those SMUS years made all the difference. Then he makes an announcement: Simon, Marie and Olivia are funding a scholarship that will make his experience available to the students who need it. Having lived a life of inclusion at SMUS, Simon and his family are now making the school more inclusive for future students.
These two stories bookend a library’s worth of narratives, telling a tale of perseverance, determination and of friendship – the lasting bonds built with the people who made a life of inclusion at SMUS real for Simon. Although there are many characters in Simon’s story, the one who appears most often is teacher and coach Ian Hyde-Lay.
Ian first appeared in Simon’s Grade 8 year, when he became the target of peer bullying. It was an agonizing period that whittled away at his sense of belonging. But one day, Simon found himself on the receiving end of a friendly greeting and an extended conversation with two of the school’s most respected senior athletes – Milan Uzelac ’92 and Steve Nash ’92. What Simon didn’t learn until much later was that Ian, playing deus ex machina, encouraged his two star basketball players to show Simon support.
Despite a four-grade difference, that first meeting with Milan and Steve turned into a camaraderie that helped Simon make a confident transition to Senior School the following year. At Senior School, Ian became a regular part of Simon’s school life, starting with Phys. Ed. classes in Grade 9.
Marie remembers one occasion when she was watching her son’s class do laps around the field as she waited to pick Simon up at the end of the day. She could see that Ian was challenging Simon, calling out to him repeatedly: “You can do it!” She could also see that Simon’s respiratory issues were making it a struggle for him to keep going. But he kept going. Later, he would tell her about the class and about Ian, saying with elation, “Mom, he believes I can do anything!”
What he wanted to do more than anything was to be part of team sports at SMUS. At first Simon couldn’t see a way for that to happen, but something Ian told him made him think about the problem differently. Ian had said: “If you believe playing happens only on the court, you need to change your attitude.”
Flipping through the 1993-94 yearbook will show you how that particular story ended. In the team photo of the Junior boys basketball team, first row, far right, you’ll see Simon, the team manager, dressed in his uniform but assuming the same pose as the rest of his row: backs straight, elbows at the side and palms resting on knees. A few pages later, he appears again, this time as manager of the Colts rugby team.
Simon looks happy and proud in these photos but above all, he looks like he belongs. That is the incredible gift he received from Ian Hyde-Lay, he says. Now, on an evening in November, in front of an enthusiastic crowd of students, parents, staff and alumni, Simon presents his own gift to Ian: the new scholarship is called the Hyde-Lay/Ibell Endowed Scholarship Fund and the basketball court in the large gym will be called the Hyde Lay Court. For Simon, these represent a fitting legacy for the man who has given him and others so much.
“Not everyone is going to be a Steve Nash, but the values that Ian instilled are the ones I take most to heart: determination, respect, enthusiasm, attitude and motivation. Taken together they spell ‘dream.’ We can all dream big – Hydes taught us that.”
This article appeared in the Winter 2015/16 edition of School Ties. Click here to read the complete magazine.