By RON FANFAIR
Though Pickering High School had produced several outstanding athletes like sprinter Enver Carolissen and high jumper Chris Scott, the Ajax school track and field program was not competitive when Cyril Sahadath joined the staff in 1989.
And, as if he needed a reminder of what was expected, the school’s physical education head laid down the welcome mat with a brief and direct greeting: “You have to be a winner.”
Sahadath has not disappointed.
In his first season, Pickering High School won the Lake Ontario Secondary School Athletics Association track and field championship and, two years later, in 1991, captured the first of its six Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) boys’ titles. The girls program, established in 2006, has also flourished, winning its second OFSAA crown this month.
Despite the exceptional success, Sahadath is a bit unhappy and frustrated because Ajax does not have a proper track and field facility.
Plans to install a rubberized track as part of major renovations to the school fell through when the money ran out.
“This is a high school with one of the better track and field programs in the country,” said Sahadath, who came to Canada from Trinidad & Tobago in 1965 at age seven. “This is an institution that is rich in the sport’s tradition and we are in a community that has turned out many outstanding athletes. We should have a facility with some lanes where you can put some running spikes on.”
Athletes begin their season training in the school’s hallway on the terrazzo floors before moving outside to St. Mary Secondary School in Pickering where practices are held in the spring from 6:30 to 8:45 p.m. from Monday to Friday and from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays.
The team also prepares for the season by taking part in track meets in Ottawa.
“I think what we have here is a community issue and not a Pickering High School problem,” said Sahadath. “When I look around, I can see a number of baseball diamonds, soccer fields and ice rinks. I feel it’s time that our local government acts. This shouldn’t be about a high school winning a championship. This should be about a community wanting something that is theirs.”
Ajax Ward Two councillor, Renrick Ashby, shares Sahadath concerns.
“Every time I open the local newspaper, I see that Pickering High School is winning something in the area of sport, particularly in track and field,” he said. “Obviously, the coaches know what they are doing and they are grooming kids to be high performance athletes…With the success the track and field athletes have had, I am surprised that putting in a track was not a priority as part of the renovations.”
Despite the obstacles and frustration, Sahadath continues to run a very successful program that has turned out several track scholarship recipients, including hurdlers Marissa Smith and Ingvar Moseley who are heading this fall to Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.
Of the 90 athletes that expressed an interest in track and field at the start of the season, 37 made it to the OFSAA championships at Varsity Stadium three weeks ago where Pickering High School clinched both the boys and girls team titles.
The school dominated the relays and Grade Nine student, Noelle Leon-Palmer, won four gold medals and ran a wind-aided 12.13 secs. in the midget 100-metre final. She also anchored the 4 x 400-metre relay team that captured the high school event at the Festival of Excellence meet and finished fifth in the 100-metre dash run 35 minutes later.
“Noelle is one of the most natural sprinters I have seen,” said her coach. “Had it not been for her young age, she could very well be challenging for a spot on a Canadian junior team. If she wants to pursue track, she will be a national team member for many years.”
A French Immersion and academic honour roll student, Leon-Palmer also plays soccer for her high school and at the rep level.
Adriana Allen, who ran the third leg in the Festival of Excellence relay meet, was named the school’s Female Athlete of the Year. One of Pickering High School’s most decorated athletes and an outstanding hoops player, she has accepted a basketball scholarship to attend Monmouth University in New Jersey.
The girls program has progressed rapidly since it was established three years ago.
“It was hard to attract females prior to 2006,” Sahadath said. “I think they felt intimidated because of the success and the type of training we do. Four years ago, Chrystal Bryan (a vice-principal at Ajax High School) told me that we needed a girls’ track team. I said O.K., you will see one next year. We finished last in our first competition with just seven points but came back the next year to be crowned champs.
“That meant that we moved from last to first in 12 months. That could not have been accomplished without talent and a group of kids who wanted to work real hard. I predict they are going to win it again next year.”
Xavier King, who also runs cross country, played a pivotal role in the boys’ team securing its first title in seven years.
The only African-Canadian runner in the junior 3,000-metre event, he brushed aside the challenge of 23 contenders, leading from the start to finish in an impressive time of 8:39.06.
“He’s an amazing kid and the real deal and if he continues to take advantage of his God-given talent, he will represent Canada in both the 3,000- and 5,000-metre events,” Sahadath said. “It used to be when the longer events were on, our athletes would go off and take their lunches. That’s not the case anymore. When Xavier is running, they are watching.”
The head of his school’s special education department, Sahadath attributes his development as a teacher and coach to his high school mentor, Vladimir “Walter” Kostric – who succumbed to a heart attack nine years ago – and his older brother, Curtis, who coached at the high school, club and national levels.
Olympic bronze medalist, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep and two-time world champion, Perdita Felicien, began hurdling together in high school with coach Curtis Sahadath, who is now retired.