Steve Friesen, Raise the Bar Founder & Health and Physical Education Teacher (retired)

Photo of smiling white male, wearing a blue long-sleeve shirt in front of brick wall.

Ophea’s Sector Spotlight aims to illuminate the bright spots within the education sector through recognizing the critical work being done by community members and value-aligned organizations, and its impact on student and staff well-being. 

For over two decades, educators and student leaders across Ontario have used Raise the Bar resources for support in developing intramurals tailored to the unique needs of their school community. In addition, to being the founder of the Raise the Bar Intramural Program, Steve Friesen is also a retired Health and Physical Education Teacher and currently a Recreation Leader with the City of Guelph.  

Providing students with the opportunity to lead an intramural program creates a culture of ownership and inclusion. Read on to learn about this month’s featured Spotlight, Steve Friesen, an advocate and supporter of the delivery of inclusive intramural opportunities for the past 20 years. 

What’s one thing you would want our audience to know about you? 

When I started teaching, I wasn’t thinking about intramurals, my focus was on my courses and coaching. My passion all through my school years was interschool sports, so by coaching, I could continue being involved in athletics. I had many great experiences. Over 30+ years, I coached 60 teams and 10 different sports. However, once I realized the limitations of the interschool sports programs I began to put more of my time into programs that allowed every student to play and for me that was intramurals. 

What is one thing you wish people knew about intramurals? 

When you think about intramurals you automatically think about physical activity. However, there was more to Raise the Bar than physical activity and sport. There were other issues that I tried to promote - namely, the impact intramurals could have on student mental health and student engagement. Mental health has become a major concern for all of us - especially students. We all know that when students feel engaged at school they feel better about themselves - they have another purpose to be at school and they feel like they belong. This is so important for positive self-esteem. Programs like intramurals, where no one is turned away, offer unlimited opportunities for students to be engaged and involved at school. These feelings of belonging can lead to better mental health outcomes. 

What motivates you?  

Seeing kids play motivates me to do more for them and also shows me that I’m on the right track advocating for inclusive play and inclusive sport opportunities. I began opening the gym up in the morning before school started so students could come and shoot baskets. The look of excitement on their faces told me everything I needed to know - that they want to play and all we need to do is provide them with the access and opportunity to do so. The first day there was one student, the next day there were three and the next week there were over 60 students!  It’s great to see that this is still happening at my school five years after my retirement.  

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a similar initiative in their school and/or board? 

I would offer two pieces of advice. First, stick with it because it will turn out to be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do as a teacher. There is so much good that comes from running a program where every student is included. For me, I loved teaching and coaching, but running the intramural program was the best thing I ever did. So much fun and so much excitement! I’ll see former students from time to time and the first thing many of them want to talk about is the intramural program. 

Secondly, you need support. You can’t run the program on your own. You’ll need another teacher and hopefully a group of student leaders who can help run the program for you. I always had a strong student leadership team and they were invaluable. Once you get your support and leadership team in place, you’ll be good to go!

Contact Ophea at to connect with Steve.

Ophea Publishing Note: 

As of January 2024, the Raise the Bar website will be unavailable and Raise the Bar resources will no longer be offered for download in their current form. Much of the content has been adapted and included within Play for All: Strategies for Inclusive Intramurals but if there are any Raise the Bar resources that are integral parts of your practice, we encourage you to download them today!