When students at St. Jacobs Public School see Mr. Quinney walking down the hall, it’s quickly apparent that he isn’t like the other teachers at the school. Standing 6’1” tall and weighing in at 215 lbs, 24-year-old Peter Quinney is built more like a football player than the average elementary school teacher – and for good reason. For the past year, Quinney has been living a double-life as a Grade 6, 7, and 8 teacher at St. Jacobs, while at the same time trying to fulfill his dream of playing in the Canadian Football League.
“My brothers and I are all big – I’m by far the smallest of the three – and we were always wrestling. The Quinneys were a physical bunch,” he laughed while sitting at his desk Wednesday afternoon after class.
“Naturally I gravitated towards football, and I started off as a big, blunt instrument that could move a pile.”
Quinney developed into much more than a blunt instrument, however. He played high school football at Centennial Secondary School in Belleville and was named athlete of the year five times before moving on to Wilfrid Laurier University to study kinesiology and physical education in 2005.
He played slotback, tight-end and fullback at Laurier, was a member of the Vanier Cup champion Golden Hawks in 2005, and named team captain in his third year.
Throughout his time at university he always had the intention of studying to become a teacher after he was heavily influenced by his teachers and coaches in Belleville.
“I thought ‘wow, what a cool job,’ and I know how great of an affect they can have,” he said.
Upon finishing his undergrad degree in 2009, Quinney simultaneously filled out his teachers college application and prepared to enter the CFL draft in an effort to keep his football dreams alive.
Quinney performed well at the rookie camp that summer and was drafted in the fifth round – 35th overall – by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. However, by the end of June he was released by the team and told to gain another year of experience as a player.
He returned to Laurier to finish his teaching degree and to play another year of university football, and was signed by the Toronto Argonauts later that year – a dream come true for the boy who grew up cheering for the double blue and Mike “Pinball” Clemons.
“When I was a kid, my dad took me to games, and I always wanted to see the Argos play. What a tremendous honour it was to play for them.”
Quinney played in 12 games last season as a special-teams player, but ended up being released from the team in September after NFL cuts allowed the Argo’s to bring in a little more talent from down south.
“It’s devastating, absolutely,” said Quinney. “I tasted that before when I got released from Winnipeg, but I was used to being at the top of the food chain, and I had to understand that ‘wow, I’m not good enough to be here right now,’ so that was very difficult for me.”
As luck would have it, though, the cut didn’t last long. Within a few weeks, the Argos called upon Quinney to fill a roster spot for the regular-season finale against Montreal on Nov. 7 so they could rest some of their starting lineup before the start of the playoffs.
However, Quinney was also scheduled to start his first day of teaching at St. Jacobs the next day, filling in for another teacher for the remainder of the year. The school’s administration permitted him to play because it would have no direct impact on the students, but when he performed well enough to earn a call-back by the Argos to play the following week against Hamilton in the Eastern quarterfinals, he had a difficult decision to make – and he decided to pursue football.
“I actually took two days off three days into my first teaching gig, but they couldn’t have been more accommodating here,” said Quinney.
The juggling act ended the next week against Montreal in the Eastern finals when the
Argonauts lost 48-17, and Quinney knows the unique situation he put both the team and the school board in by pursuing both passions for that month – something he is eternally grateful for.
“That was a very stressful couple of weeks,” he admitted. “There were three or four weeks where I was driving to Mississauga for practice then back here for classes.”
Just this past week, however, his road towards becoming a permanent player in the CFL became a little murkier. On Monday, Quinney was informed by the Argos that they would not be pursuing his services for the upcoming season, which he admits has made him a little uncertain about his football future.
He knows that even a year or two away from the game could spell the end of his career, but he has reached an understanding that perhaps his days of playing professionally are coming to an end.
“I’m very happy that I was able to strap on the pads and jersey when I did, but if I can’t anymore, then maybe that stage of my life is over.
“If I had to choose between football and teaching, I would choose teaching 100 per cent of the time,” he said. “Football has a very short shelf-life, and you only have a certain window to play, so I’ll keep training and exploring my options, but I’m certainly comfortable here as well.”
He says that his time as a professional athlete has shaped him into the teacher he is today. He teaches seven classes a day – art, math, science, geography, history, and physical education – and is enjoying every minute of it. He has even gravitated towards coaching in the school, a natural fit for the former student-athlete, and he says that athletics and teaching are actually quite similar.
“The largest subject I teach is math, and when a group of students are getting stressed out and tired and losing focus, we’ll do an activity,” he said. “I think of myself as a high-energy individual and I try to bring up a laugh, but still remain on-task and getting things done.”
He also said that if any team was willing to let him finish classes in June before joining their roster in July, he’d never fully discount that possibility, either.
“I’m terrified of living in regret, and I’d like to know that I have explored all my options and left it all out on the field or in the classroom.”