Well-played: How a west-Toronto kid turned a schoolyard scuffle into a scholarship to Harvard

Well-played: How a west-Toronto kid turned a schoolyard scuffle into a scholarship to Harvard

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The brothers’ shared interest isn’t limited to volleyball. Abdul is in teacher’s college and Azim has also expressed an interest in perhaps getting into teaching one day. He’s taking a wide range of classes in his first year so he can get a sense of where he wants to place his focus. If it turns out to be teaching, he’s already laid some groundwork. Abdul says he often hears Azim in his room, tutoring others virtually through their math, science or English homework.

The house will be quieter come fall, but Abdul says he and his mother and father will still be cheering Azim on from afar, even if they aren’t the ones dropping him off at the gym anymore.

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When they found out Azim was Harvard bound, the emotions were overwhelming, Abdul says.

“Excitement, relief, joy. Just reflecting on all the years, all the drives, all the injuries, all the sacrifices and just knowing that, like, he’s going to be OK. I would always tell my mom that Azim is going to be OK, like no matter where he ends up, even before we knew Harvard was interested,” says Abdul.

“He’s got a set of skills, athletically, socially, academically, but then he’s also very driven. So I’m not surprised, I’m happy, but I’m not surprised at all that he’s found himself where he is right now.”

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Neither is Daniel Girdler, the head of health and physical education at North Albion. Though it’s his first year teaching at the school, Girdler has been working in education for seven years and he’s never worked at a school where a student has gone on to attend Harvard.

Azim, Girdler says, is “an example of the ultimate embodiment of a student-athlete,” noting that his performance in the classroom is as strong as it is on the court.

“He’s just one of those students that everyone speaks about uniformly in high regard. He’s an incredible athlete, a top-notch student and a great person,” Girdler says.

And now, thanks to a journey that began with one bad day on the playground, he will be a part of Etobicoke history.

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