MSS OFSAA cross-country champions, coach recognized by Rainbow District School Board

MSS OFSAA junior girls’ team, Annie Balfe, Maren Kasunich, Mackenzie Green and Morgan Green.

SUDBURY – The Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) Mustangs junior girls’ cross-country running team members who won the recent Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations championship, as well as two MSS boys’ team members who competed and placed well at the provincials, and also members of the OFSAA winning Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School (Sudbury)  were all recognized for their efforts by the Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) at a meeting last week. 

“Well said, Mackenzie (Green), and I would like to thank Alison (Orford, MSS assistant coach), Mr. (David) Wiwchar (MSS principal), the MSS runners and Colin Ward (coach of the Lo-Ellen team, and the Lo-Ellen runners. We wanted to be able to celebrate and recognize all of you this evening,” stated Dena Morrison, chair of the RDSB strategic planning committee, at last week’s meeting. 

Ms. Morrison was commenting on the MSS junior girls’ and Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School junior boys’ cross-country running teams that both won OFSAA in their respective divisions. “It has been a couple of decades since we have had champions in Northern Ontario in these two categories, let alone two within the RDSB. You have carried the torch and we are very proud of all of you.” 

David Wiwchar, principal of MSS, had introduced the Mustangs athletes, noting, “I’ve just come through the gymnasium to go home, and many of these same athletes are taking part in volleyball practice.”

Alison Orford, assistant coach of the Mustangs team, told the committee members, “I think these student athletes are absolutely amazing with the work and commitment they have exhibited, and the amount of work and training they have done. And it included a lot of travel, as the team had to go to St. Joseph Island three weekends in a row to compete and then to Peterborough for the OFSAA championship.”

“We had six runners compete at OFSAA, the junior girls’ team, which included Maren Kasunich, Annie Balfe, Mackenzie Green and Morgan Green, and Brodie Pennie (in the boys’ junior division) who is here as well.” said Ms. Orford. “The only athlete that went to OFSAA and is missing tonight is Xavi Mara (in the novice boys division).”

The MSS runners, “are trained and coached by Gerry Holliday, a retired teacher in the RDSB,” continued Ms. Orford. 

“Going to OFSAA was amazing,” stated Ms. Orford. “When we first arrived, some of the team were saying, ‘do we have any chance to win OFSAA with so many teams and runners?’ It was Morgan who said we had to compete and qualify, just like the rest of them.”

Mackenzie Green told the committee, “we all had an amazing experience at OFSAA in Peterborough. We really appreciated being able to compete against one another in real time, compared to last year when, given the circumstances, we had separated starts. Running in a mass start allowed us to meet more people and experience a true huge race.”

“I really enjoyed meeting other kids, especially since on the Island there isn’t much opportunity to meet new people,” said Mackenzie. “Many of us have known each other since we were in kindergarten. This also made my experience much more special. It meant so much to me to be able to compete in the largest race in my life with my best friends.”

“It did feel odd that spectators were not allowed and for many of us our parents could not cheer us on,” said Mackenzie. “We know that the experience was not exactly what it typically is. Regardless, we had so much fun and truly appreciate everyone’s efforts in helping us to compete on the provincial stage.” 

Mr. Ward, the Lo-Ellen coach, made a presentation  on behalf of the team and athletes on hand. “The MSS team seems to have been in the same situation as we were. I never expected us to win the cross-country banner although I knew we had a strong team and we were good.”  

“I would like to start by thanking Alison, Colin and Gerry (Holliday) for coaching these athletes. I know they do it because they love it,” stated Island trustee Margaret Stringer. “We are so proud of the MSS and Lo-Ellen teams.”

“We recognize the teachers and coaching staff, for these athletes would not have been there without them. And to Mr. (Bruce) Bourget (RDSB director of education) for getting sports back into our schools,” said board trustee Judy Hunda. “Congratulations to all our athletes. The board is incredibly proud of all your work and commitment. We are very proud of all of you.” 

“If the rest of the province didn’t know where the Rainbow District School Board is, they do now,” stated Ms. Morrison.

Mr. Bourget added, “we are very proud of all our athletes. Being an OFSAA champion is something that can never be taken away  from you. And thanks to the board trustees for allowing our athletes to compete in events like this.”