HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
In their athletic prime, siblings Lesley Tashlin and Taly Williams reached a high level of achievement in track and field and pro football, respectively, in the 1990s.
Raised in the town of Haliburton, a two-hour drive north of Toronto, they were solid student-athletes at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, and were either named to Team Canada or played in the CFL, a long-established Canadian tradition.
When they stepped away from their playing fields, Tashlin, a former Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club hurdler, became a massage therapist, and Williams, an engineering grad from the University of Waterloo, co-founded AQORA Capital Management, LLC in Los Angeles.
But in the 20-25 years since their retirements, Haliburton has never honoured Tashlin, a sprint hurdler at six major Games, or Williams, a defensive back for Toronto Argos and Hamilton Ticats for 1994 and 1995. But that may change.
Significant athletes from Haliburton, like NHL’s Bernie Nicholls, Ron Stackhouse, Matt Duchene, Cody Hodgson and the CFL’s Mike Bradley, have their mural painted on the outside wall of the A.J. LaRue Arena.
But an industrious group of Grade 7-8 French Immersion students at J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School want to right that wrong and see the first Black athletes and first siblings on the prominent wall.
During the school’s morning announcements one day, the students heard about the achievements of Tashlin and Williams. For a class assignment, one student decided to write a biography on Tashlin and Williams.
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The biography excited this group of independent thinkers. They couldn’t understand why they hadn’t heard of the athletic pair and wanted to give them their proper recognition – a mural on the arena wall.
The students, along with teacher Mme Marina Thomazo, started a lobbying campaign by sending a letter to Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts and the town council. It was discussed at the March 23 council meeting.
As Roberts was unclear about the athlete selection criteria, she sent the matter to the cultural resources committee, which discussed it April 22. A sub-committee was struck to establish a selection policy and will report to the cultural resources committee June 10. A recommendation will go to council June 22.
“There is limited space on the arena. I believe only three areas left,” Roberts said in an email. “Our community is very proud of both Lesley and Taly. They will be honoured in some way. I do not know yet if they meet the recommended criteria for a mural.”
Tashlin was shocked when she received a copy of the letter from the enterprising students.
“It was completely out of the blue. I’m impressed with the students. They are very persistent,” said a humble Tashlin, who lives in Ottawa.
“I’m naturally quiet. This is a lot for me to take in,” she told Athletics Canada in a news release. “At first, I was like, ‘Go for it!’ and it has become so much more than I expected. The kids are great.”
The last time athlete murals were added to the arena wall was in 2012 with the paintings of Hodgson and Bradley. At that time, someone wondered why Tashlin and Williams didn’t get the nod from council.
“I looked at it (the wall) and they’re all pro players,” she continued. “At the time, I didn’t feel the need to be on the wall. Regardless of what happens, I hope they keep persisting and making a change.”
Tashlin added her brother should be on the wall, since he was a pro football player. Williams responded saying Tashlin should be on the wall because of her success representing Canada at major Games.
The 1995 Canadian women’s 100-m hurdles champion, Tashlin was 37th at the 1996 Olympics, sixth and fourth respectively at the 1998 and 1994 Commonwealth Games and fifth and sixth at the 1999 and 1995 Pan Am Games.
An elite athlete for nine years, she also competed at the 2001 Jeux de la Francophonie and later worked with high performance, able-bodied and para athletes as a message therapist on the Integrated Support Team.
If Tashlin and Williams aren’t selected for a mural on the arena wall, they could be nominated for and named to the new Haliburton Highlands Sports Hall of Fame. The inaugural inductees will be announced Monday with a celebration ceremony on Oct. 23.
But the students would prefer Tashlin and Williams have their paintings on the outside arena wall, where they would get more visibility and perhaps serve as an inspiration to young female and Black athletes.
“Since September (2020), our school has been committed to foster a culture based on social-justice principles of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion,” the students wrote in their letter to the mayor.
“We regularly celebrate during our morning announcements and in our classes the achievements of people who demonstrate those principles and local excellence.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.