CFL referee and air force colonel Chris Shapka has no doubt that support from his high school teachers and coaches — before and after graduation — helped him succeed in his careers.
The newest Lindsay Thurber Hall of Fame inductee told the upcoming 2023 graduating class about calling one of his former high school teachers while struggling during his first year at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC).
“He told me what I should do is give it one more week and if I made it through that one week I should try for another week after that. I spent much of my first year at RMC surviving one week at a time,” said Shapka, 42, at the 2022 induction ceremony at Ècole Lindsay Secondaire Thurber Comprehensive High School on Monday.
While trying to decide whether to return for his second year at RMC, he visited his former high school football coach who encouraged him to improve his study habits and assured him it would get better.
“Most importantly, he made me realize I did want to stay but was afraid of failing,” said Shapka, who graduated with honours from military college and became an aerospace engineering officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
The 1997 Lindsay Thurber alumnus is now responsible for all aspects of aircraft maintenance across the entire Royal Canadian Air Force as Director of A4 Maintenance.
Some of his other career highlights include being named Commandant of the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering from 2015 to 2017 where he was responsible for the training of all RCAF aircraft technicians and aerospace engineering officers. In 2020, as a member of Operation Reassurance, he was deployed to the 609th Air Operations Centre at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar where he was Chief of Combat Operations and responsible for overseeing daily coalition air operations in the region.
While at Thurber, Shapka played two seasons with the Raiders football team, and said he still remembers his coach congratulating him after his best game on the field.
“You may not always know the difference you’re making, and your students may not know it at that particular moment, but your influence is real and you’re helping people realize their potential,” he told Lindsay Thurber staff.
Shapka’s passion for football led him to become a referee in youth football in 2002 and a CFL referee for eight seasons. He was a member of the officiating crews for the 105th Grey Cup in Ottawa and the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary, and next week Shapka will referee at a playoff game in Toronto.
He said being a CFL ref is challenging and requires a lot of preparation, but it’s great being on the field during a close game.
“I love being a part of it. I work with an incredible group of men and women.”
Shapka told future graduates that they will face challenges but remember to persevere one day, one week, one semester, or one year at a time.
“One step at a time might be the very thing that gets you through. If you struggle, don’t be afraid to ask for help including from those who supported you in this school. I can tell you from personal experience that their care and compassion doesn’t end the day you leave.”