Supported by almost the same cast that enabled Pickering High School to clinch the province’s boys and girls high school track and field championships last year in Toronto, coach Cyril Sahadath is guardedly optimistic that his crew can create history this weekend by becoming the first school to win back-to-back titles in both categories.
The annual three-day Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) championships begin this afternoon at the University of Western Ontario’s TD Waterhouse stadium in London.
“I don’t want to appear cocky, but we have the capability to repeat if everything falls into place,” said Trinidad-born Sahadath.
The coach of the Durham school team for the past 22 years has every reason to be confident.
All but three athletes – Marissa Smith and Adriana Allen are on basketball scholarships at Drake and Monmouth universities respectively while Ingvar Moseley graduated in 2009 — have returned this year, and the Grade Nine additions include Yazin Joseph, who is unbeaten in six hurdles events this season.
The French Immersion student was a member of former Canadian short sprint relay Olympic bronze medalist Tony Sharpe’s track club, The Speed Academy, prior to entering high school.
“He hurdled a bit in elementary school, so it’s like a bonus in disguise having him hurdle in high school,” said Sahadath who came to Canada at age seven in 1965. “He posted the fastest time in the province this season and I predict he could be a national champion in his age category this year. That’s how good he is.
“Yazin is a very good athlete who’s taking advantage of an excellent program.”
Joseph is also a member of the midget 4 x 100-metre relay team, one of his school’s seven relay sides in the provincial championships. Last year, Pickering High dominated the relays which Sahadath said is one of his team’s strengths.
“We should medal in all of them,” the coach said. “The only one that I have some doubts about is the senior boys 4 x 400 since a lot will depend on anchor leg runner Xavier King who is also doing the 1,500- and 3,000-metre races. He will be a very tired athlete but he’s someone who’s capable of lifting his game when it matters most.”
Sahadath is looking to the midget girls to lead the way in the school’s quest for its third title in four years. The girls program was established in 2006 after Ajax High School vice-principal Chrystal Bryan challenged Sahadath to start a girls program.
The school finished last in its first competition with just seven points but rebounded magnificently the next year to win the crown.
Sahadath is counting on newcomers Nichelle Prince – her father Fabian represented Kingston College in Jamaica’s high school championships (CHAMPS) in 1976 and 1978 — to capture gold medals in the 100- and 200-metre sprints and Alexis Janes to win the 400-metre race.
“The problem with the girls is that many of them play soccer at a very high level and it’s hard to get them focused because they are always juggling the two sports,” said Sahadath who is taking 40 athletes to this weekend’s competition.
The team’s preparation this season was boosted by four trips to Ottawa earlier this year. The school competed in a series of meets for Eastern Ontario high schools put on by the Ottawa Lions Track Club at the Louis Riel Public Secondary School dome, North American’s largest air supported fabric structure.
“We have been going there for the past four years and it has helped us to get ready for OFSAA,” said Sahadath, who is also the head of his school’s special education department. “We are able to do full flat races and hurdles at a time when most athletes are doing shorter distances because of the weather conditions. Those bus trips also helps to bring our team together, so when we hop on a bus on Thursday morning (today), we are already a tightly knitted team, knowing and supporting each other. I think that gives us an edge.”
Winning individual events matters to an athlete and the coach. Sahadath however is always looking at the big picture and his interest also lies in accumulating points.
“When you do that, it translates to winning championships which is the most important thing for us at the end of the day,” he added.