By Martin Cleary
If you were a big sports fan and attended the 2013 OFSAA track and field championships in Oshawa, you were doing yourself a favour without even realizing it.
You were witnessing future Olympians.
At that provincial high school athletics championship, you would have seen Kyra Constantine win gold medals in the girls’ midget 100, 200 and 400 metres. Eight years later, she ran for Canada at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo and had a fourth-place result in the women’s 4×400-metre relay.
Gabriela Stafford was the girls’ senior 3,000-metre champion and the 1,500-metre runner-up. The 2021 Tokyo Olympics was her second Summer Games and she finished fifth in the 1,500-metre.
Justyn Knight was an emerging, first-year senior and placed fifth in the boys’ senior 3,000 metres. Eight years later, he qualified for the men’s 5,000-metre final at the Tokyo Olympics and finished seventh.
Now, it’s Ottawa’s turn to showcase the best provincial runners, jumpers and throwers at the high-school level, when the OFSAA track and field championships arrive at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility stadium June 8-10.
“So many of our Olympians and high-level athletes get their start in school sports,” said Kirk Dillabaugh, who is the OFSAA track and field championships’ co-convenor with Seb Lalonde.
“School sport is struggling because of financial costs, but to have an event of this calibre is a great way to give back.”
“OFSAA (track and field championships) is called The Show,” Lalonde added. “Many (future) Olympians will be here competing and often people don’t get to see them at the high-school level. It will be a great way to promote the sport.”
This will be the third time one of North America’s largest track and field meets will be played out in Ottawa, but the first time it will unfold on short notice.
Dillabaugh and Lalonde were supposed to have a three-year cushion to stage the biggest ticket on the OFSAA athletic schedule. But because of championship cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic and one group not being able to play host to the meet, Dillabaugh and Lalonde only learned last June that Ottawa would be the OFSAA championship site one year earlier than expected.
“Normally, we would have had three years in advance to bring everything together,” Dillabaugh explained. “But we were given less than one year because we only found out about it before last summer. There has been a lot of leg work.”
The Ottawa organizing committee for the 2023 OFSAA track and field championships has accomplished a lot in a short time, but it’s about $20,000 short of meeting its $100,000 budget to stage the meet.
Dillabaugh and Lalonde said they have received substantial donations from Ottawa Tourism, title sponsor NIKE, and Ashbury College. They also expect athlete registration fees to cover about a quarter of their budget.
While some Ottawa companies have provided gifts-in-kind, Dillabaugh and Lalonde are hoping to raise another $20,000 in the next two months to achieve their goals.
“There are a lot of companies out there, but it’s too tight a time line. Bigger businesses do their budgets the previous year,” Dillabaugh said.
“We need to find people who will support local sports and help out.”
The photography company Mundo is willing to take pictures at the championships and allow the athletes and their families to use the photos without having to purchase them. But for that to happen, the meet organizers need to find a sponsor or sponsors to cover the $5,000 fee.
They also need to raise money to provide meals for the meet officials and volunteers, hire security guards and rent tents and equipment to set up the venue.
The organizers could have used the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club’s timing system to produce the official results, but it didn’t meet all the OFSAA requirements. Windsor Timing will be responsible for producing the overall results.
“I used to run the timing system here before I became a teacher, but we don’t have enough equipment,” Lalonde said. “It’s a show, now. Windsor Timing will have scoreboards at every corner (of the track). We don’t have the hardware they do. This is now what’s expected for OFSAA.
“Kirk and I have 50 years of knowledge in track and field. That‘s the easy part. But behind the scenes, people don’t realize the amount of resources it takes. We need more resources to make it seem more seamless.”
Parking also will be an important issue for the meet organizers. While there will be open parking at the Mooney’s Bay beach site, organizers hope to negotiate parking deals with nearby Brookfield High School and Canada Post.
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Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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