For those seeking some consolation in the sudden passing of revered Pickering High School track and field coach and mentor, Cyril Sahadath, it may be comforting to know that he died doing what he loved best – working with young people to achieve their maximum potential.
Sahadath, who was also head of the special education department, succumbed to a massive heart attack last Monday afternoon just minutes after completing this season’s first indoor practice at the school where he worked since 1989. He was 55.
Some of his students rendered first aid while others frantically called 9-1-1 for assistance.
The school’s track and field program was floundering when Sahadath joined the staff. And, as if he needed a reminder of what was expected, the then physical education head laid down the welcome mat with a brief and direct greeting: “You have to be a winner.”
Never one to back down from challenges, Sahadath responded in grand style.
In his first season, the Pickering Trojans won the Lake Ontario Secondary School Athletics Association championship and, two years later in 1991, clinched its first Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) boys’ crown.
Based on his immense success with the boys, Durham District School Board vice-principal Chrystal Bryan encouraged Sahadath to start a girls’ program.
“I told her O.K, you will see one next year,” Sahadath said in a 2009 interview with Share.
The girls finished last at their first OFSAA championship in 2006 with just seven points, but returned the next year to win the title.
At the 2011 provincial championships in Sudbury, the Trojans made history becoming the first Ontario school to win three straight boys’ and girls’ titles. The Durham school also captured a record 12th team title while surpassing Michael Power High School that won 11 crowns in 12 years with Father John Redmond at the helm.
“Pickering has the best track and field program in the country and that’s a testament to their coach,” said two-time Athletics Canada Coach of the Year, Anthony McCleary, whose daughter attends the school.
Last summer, the boys’ team secured its fourth straight title and record 13th provincial crown.
“I think when you look back at Cyril’s body of work, you cannot help but marvel with what he accomplished with limited resources,” said Miguel Hyman whose daughter, Kenya, is a hurdler in the track and field program.
A few years ago, plans to install a rubberized track as part of major renovations to the school fell through when the money ran out. The athletes trained in the school’s hallway on the terrazzo floors before moving outside in the spring to St. Mary’s Secondary School.
Though Sahadath was frustrated that the school’s track and field success could not yield a state-of-the-art facility in Durham, his disciplined program continued to churn out many track scholarship recipients annually, including long-distance runner and steeplechaser Xavier King who is a freshman at Abilene Christian University in Texas.
Two years ago, Sahadath encouraged King to try the steeplechase event.
“I was floored when I heard the news of coach’s death and I am still in shock,” said King who won 10 OFSAA medals – three gold, five silver and two bronze – in five years under Sahadath’s tutelage. “He was my biggest mentor and he made his athletes feel like if they were a family.”
Ajax councilor Renrick Ashby said Sahadath would be remembered for creating a positive and winning environment at Pickering.
“Whenever I saw Cyril, I would ask him what he was doing to keep this school making positive news,” said Ashby. “He would always say, ‘the kids did a great job’. He was never one to take the accolades for the success and that’s something that I would always remember. He made a difference in the lives of many young people and he has left an indelible mark in this community.”
Born in Trinidad & Tobago, Sahadath came to Canada in 1965 at age seven and attended Woburn Collegiate Institute where he met his wife – Dr. Kathy Cowan-Sahadath – in Grade Nine. They were married for 28 years.
“In a sense, I feel as if we were lifelong friends because we were together for 13 years before we tied the nuptial knot,” said the grieving widow who is a program manager at Hydro One.
Sahadath graduated from McMaster and York universities and the University of Toronto prior to teaching.
“That profession was a perfect fit for him because he was patient and had passion,” said Cowan-Sahadath.
The deceased attributed his zest for coaching and teaching to his older brother, Curtis, who coached track and field at the high school, club and national levels and his high school mentor, Vladimir “Walter” Kostric, who succumbed to a heart attack 13 years ago.
Sahadath is also survived by the couple’s 21-year-old son Casey, brother Colin and sister, Liz.
Visitation takes place on Sunday, March 24 from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at McEachnie Funeral Home, 28 Old Kingston Rd in Pickering.
Funeral on Monday, March 25, 10 a.m. at St. Joseph Church – Highland Creek, 200 Morrish Rd, Scarborough.
By RON FANFAIR