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By David Grossman
There are often stories shared about how people go that extra mile for others.
Lo and behold, this story is about a dandy of an adventure that you don’t always hear about - and this one that has endured for years.
Now a prodigy of the Toronto District School Board, and who has become one of the elite softball players to suit up for Canada in international competitions, Joey Lye knows all about the positive impact one can get from a determined and extraordinary individual.
Lye, who is living her aspiration of playing softball for Canada at the Tokyo Olympic Games, knows all too well about hopes, dreams and personal goals. She also knows about the positive vibes she has been getting, and for many years, from her former Grade 3 teacher.
Louise Foster-Martin, now retired, taught Lye at Scarborough’s Bridlewood Public School.
Catching up by phone with Lye in Japan and talking about the excitement that goes with the world’s top athletes gathering in one city, she spoke about the gift that came from “Mrs. F-M.”
It was almost 30 years ago that this teacher had her students prepare letters to themselves highlighting what they projected would happen when they got older.
The letters, addressed to their homes at the time, were sealed, stored and it was Foster-Martin who mailed them almost 10 years later - after the students had graduated from secondary school.
For Lye, a shy kid back then, she would toughen up and go on to achieve academic honors as well as delve into the world of sport. As a multi-sport athlete, Lye would easily qualify for the Birchmount Exceptional Athlete Program (BEAP) – a curriculum schedule that was designed for students who visualize a desire to improve athletically and academically.
“I played house league softball and, like most kids, had dreams of being a professional (athlete) and doing really well one day,” recalled Lye, somewhat apprehensive and bashful as an elementary school student. “Along the way, there were times that went well for me - and moments when they didn’t.
“It really is beyond something special when you have a supporter like her. So much encouragement, dedication and a desire to see you do well. She was responsible for me taking softball to the next level and I know that she had a huge part in convincing me to work hard, never give up and aim for the top.”
For many, wearing the colors of Canada, being chosen to the National team, and playing in the world spectacle called the Olympics has the makings of fame and notoriety.
While Lye kept repeating how Foster-Martin was “a great teacher” and she still has “a ton of great memories”, the Olympic infielder is overwhelmed and impressed by the constant reminders she gets from her.
Lye lives in Lewisburg, a two-and one-half hour drive northwest of Philadelphia. It’s also the home of Bucknell University, one of the top liberal arts universities in the United States. It’s also where Lye has coached the women’s softball team.
That is, until recently, when she resigned to focus on the Olympics and play for Canada in a sport that had been missing from the international competition since 2008. It’s also not scheduled for the 2024 Games in Paris.
More about that after we hear from a woman who could very well be Lye’s No. 1 fan.
“I am so proud of her and all the accomplishments,” said Foster-Martin, who lives in Brampton. “She was this quiet young girl (in Grade 3), curious and eager to learn. Teachers can spot things in students and there was something special about her. I knew, back then, that she was good
at softball and so I had gone to some of her games.”
Foster-Martin had switched to teach at Melody Village Junior School in Etobicoke when, one day, she was called to the office to receive a bouquet of flowers. It had been sent by Lye.
“The last time I saw her was in 2015 at the Pan Am Games, the year Canada won the gold medal. I consider it an honour and privilege to have taught a student, who became an Olympian. Not many teachers get that chance.”
Foster-Martin, known for doing acts of kindness, was aware that Lye enjoyed pancakes. There was nothing better than Canadian maple syrup. One day, as a reminder of her homeland, Foster-Martin sent Lye a container of the famous liquid topping. Other reminders, from flags to baseball shirts, have also been sent by the former teacher.
Fred Lewis also had an impact in the softball life of Lye.
He was an assistant coach with the Ajax Raiders, a rep team. He, too, saw potential in Lye. But Lye, recalling that she was 11 years old at the time, had tinkered with quitting the Durham Region team. She claimed the fun was no longer there and was not considered to be among the better players on the club’s first squad.
Times were different. Things changed. Discussions occurred. Lye was inspired and determined to not give up, to work hard and prove others wrong. As she looked back, that may well have been one of the key moments in her softball career.
Lye is also proof that you don’t have to be a superstar athlete, with a lucrative contract, to have your own Topps baseball card. It’s also one that she autographed for her favorite teacher.
While there is no shortage of accomplishments in Lye’s resume, winning four medals as a member of Canadian softball teams that reached the podium at World championships, she also claimed jewellery at a pair of Pan Am Games and two Canadian championships. Lye also has an impressive 11-year coaching career at four different Colleges.
When the opportunity came for Lye to help Canada earn a spot at the Tokyo Olympics, nothing could hold her back. In 2019, Lye helped Canada qualify for the 2020 Games, an event delayed a year because of the pandemic. She had even stepped down from a coaching job.
With softball added to the Olympics for the first time since 2008, and not on the schedule for the 2024 Olympics in France, Lye – and others – knew this would likely be her last time at the big event.
“I often look back at those earlier years, they were overwhelming in many ways,” said Lye. “My teachers supported me, and it was Birchmount Park that may have been the turning point, when I really pushed myself. And now, the Olympics, it’s a feeling that’s hard to describe.”
George Kourtis remembers teaching Lye at Birchmount Park.
“She was what we referred to as a quiet leader, always listened and smiled,” said Kourtis, now Program Coordinator for Health and Physical Education with the Toronto District School Board.
“I always remember her as being laser focussed, having strong leadership skills and very coachable. It was those qualities that would help her excel. She’s the type of person you would recruit because she would make people feel good, was personable and had a superb work ethic.”
Photo: Courtesy of McIntosh Family: Etobicoke Swim Club; Frank Gunn, Canadian Press; CBC TV; Swim Ontario
By David Grossman
She is Canada’s newest dream sensation in the pool.
Just one thing. Chop the word dream when you talk about the youngster who shines all year – Summer McIntosh. Also, make a note of the name because you’ll be hearing a lot more about her success in the years to come.
As a 14-year old with triumphs and achievements that have shattered the Canadian swim scene, McIntosh hasn’t received the spotlight she deserves by the mainstream media or even the national sports body. That is, until she permeated the opposition – including childhood idol Penny Oleksiak - at the delayed Canadian Olympic Swim Trials in Toronto.
In 2016, it was Oleksiak, now the veteran, who became the youngest Canadian to ever win Olympic gold, sharing the top of the 100-metre freestyle podium with Simone Manuel, from the United States. Oleksiak would add more to her collection with a total of four medals in six days, and carried the Canadian flag in the closing ceremony of the Brazil Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Now, five years later, and dealing with the effects of some 17 months of a coronavirus pandemic, it’s time for a new phenom, McIntosh, to take a shot at the big show.
What’s ironic is that McIntosh doesn’t celebrate her 15th birthday until 10 days after the 2021 Olympics ends. A star with the Etobicoke Swim Club, McIntosh is expected to be one of the youngest, if not the youngest, to compete for Canada at the world classic, which is set for July 23 to August 8 in Tokyo.
McIntosh broke her own Canadian age group record for 13-14 year-olds, with a time of one minute, 56.19 seconds in the women's 200-metre freestyle event at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. Oleksiak, now 21 years old, was clocked in 1:57.24.
A day later, in the 800 metres, McIntosh was back at it, stealing the show with a startling performance. Timed in eight minutes, 29.28 seconds, and well under the Olympic qualifying line and six seconds faster than her previous career best, people were talking and social media trying to understand what had just happened.
“I think it’s the same for every race,” McIntosh told reporters. “I just figure out my race strategy, what I’m trying to hold, what I am trying to be out in, and assess my training, talk with my coaches and see what I am able to do.”
McIntosh doesn’t need to remind anyone of her performance times, which reflect her gutsy training. She moved to the Pan Am pool to train alongside Oleksiak, a close friend, in March of 2020, after the death of her former coach Kevin Thorburn.
Just weeks away from the Olympics, it was quite the back-to-back performance for McIntosh, who is in the Exceptional Athlete Program at Silverthorn Collegiate. Oleksiak was a former student at Monarch Park Secondary. Both schools are in the Toronto District School Board – the largest in Canada.
McIntosh’s introduction to water came as a toddler, benefitting from the family pool, one they heat up in the winter so McIntosh could stay in shape. Her rise to fame in the water came around age 10, when she was a student at Holycrest Middle School.
Check the Canadian historical swim record books, and you might think someone has maliciously inflated the official statistics. Even tampered with names and times. Not so, if you’re raising any questions about McIntosh. She has proved time and time again how superb she is as an athlete in the water.
McIntosh has been nothing short of unbelievable. It’s also no fluke, that almost every time the aggressive and ambitious youngster entered the competitive pool, she left with a dazzling performance.
Imbued in genealogy success, McIntosh appears to be following the success of her mother – the former Jill Horstead, a 1984 Canadian Olympic swimmer, and former All-American swimmer who attended the University of Florida. The genetics are such that McIntosh, based on what she has been able to accomplish so far, certainly has the potential to be even better.
Exceptional is a word associated with the achievements of the teenager.
A quick glance will reveal McIntosh has established more than 50 Canadian age group records. Setting National records, in many cases, means the Provincial records also are supplemental to her triumphs. So, that number is, actually, far greater.
Simply put, Mcintosh is good – real good.
“I want to have fun, keep learning and be a strong competitor,” McIntosh said in a 2020 story for Swim Ontario. “
Of the dozens of age group records McIntosh has broken in the past couple of years, the longest standing one was 45 years old. It was in the 11 and 12-year old category for the 800 metre freestyle mark that was originally set by Shannon Smith in 1974. McIntosh broke this record by more than five seconds in a time of nine minutes, 07.16 at the Central Region A championship in January of 2019.
By the end of the season, eight months later, McIntosh had taken an incredible 20 seconds off the original record, clocked in an official time of 8:51.71. Just 12 years of age, she earned a bronze medal at her first Canadian Senior Swim Championship in Winnipeg.
Her times have been so impressive that Ontario age class individual medley records, once owned by Allison Higson (200m in 1986) and Joanne Malar (400m in 1988), both who competed at several Olympic and international events, now belong to McIntosh.
McIntosh has lots of decisions still to confront, like pondering a career.
There’s also contemplating her choice of schools for post-secondary studies. Much to the dismay of Canadian universities, it’s likely to be in the United States. McIntosh has what it takes to have the swim powerhouses in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) come knocking on her door with lucrative scholarship packages.
For now, with compliments and praise shadowing her, the focus is staying healthy and zeroing in on improving her skills. Silverthorn, not far from her home, has a Nationally acclaimed school program that caters to high performance cream-of-the crop athletes, allowing flexible timetables for students to stick with their intense sports training schedules.
Some might wonder how this all bodes for McIntosh, a focussed, articulate and polished individual with academic honors in the classroom as well.
Lindsay Watt remembers those early days of McIntosh in the pool. Watt was her first swim coach.
“She was quick, strong, very agile and ahead of her peers,” said Watt, who worked with McIntosh for three years before she switched swim clubs. “(Summer) just had something special. It became evident every year that there was no ceiling for her. Success made her keep chasing. Now, I know she has the capacity to be on the world stage.”
As for what lies ahead, time will tell.
“Coaching has been very important to me, building relationships, learning and improving – it’s what shapes you,” said McIntosh. “It’s cool knowing your mother was a great swimmer, understands, gives you advice and encouragement. I know I’m on track - and just keep pushing forward.”
Amazement and inspiration.
Two words, among many, that glorifies the work ethic, attitude and desire of Crispin Duenas.
For those who have not heard his name, Duenas is an athlete in the exclusive category of being a four-time Canadian Olympian with appearances in Beijing, London, Rio de Janeiro and this year, Tokyo.
His sport specialty is archery.
Some view it as a competitive and recreational activity, but there is quite a bit more that encompasses the artistry of the sport, including the technique, form, intense training, or just the skill of using a bow and arrow.
History claims archery has been around for some 70,000 years, but modern-day competitive archery involves targeting for accuracy from a pre-defined distance. Archery first appeared in the Olympics in 1900, and took a hiatus for some 52 years before returning in 1972.
As for Duenas, his introduction to this challenging sport started when he was in his graduating year at John A. Leslie Public School in Scarborough. The school’s motto "living to learn, learning to live”, fits with Duenas’ philosophy.
Although very much enthused by bows and arrows as a youngster, it was his math teacher, Chris Constantine, who may be responsible for launching Duenas to a career that also includes top 10 appearances at the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships.
At the 2019 Pan Am Games in Peru, Duenas left the South American competition with two gold medals for excellence in the individual category as well as leading the Canadian team to the top of the podium.
“I had played most sports and was looking for something different and mentioned archery,” said Duenas, reached in Turkey where the Canadian team was training at an exclusive world acclaimed facility on the south Mediterranean Sea coast with athletes from the Virgin Islands, Iran and the host country.
“(Constantine) had told me that he was a member of Archers of Caledon, a club, and I got the invite. It was all pure luck and chance. That was it, and I never looked back.”
Duenas would move on to Birchmount Park Collegiate, known for its Exceptional Athlete Program and would go on to carve a page in history by becoming the first able-bodied athlete from the Toronto District School Board site to go to the Olympics.
Now, a graduate of the University of Toronto and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, the 35-year-old has been a substitute teacher since 2013. In June of this year, he was added to the TDSB’s recommended for hire list as a full-time teacher.
One of Canada’s elite archers, and likely the best, Duenas knows that the greatest stories are lived, not told. His best, for now, doesn’t relate to winning jewellery at championships.
“It was 2013, in the same place that I am training in now, that was something very special to me,” recalled Duenas. “I had won a bronze medal at an outdoor championship, and it was the first by a Canadian in a World championship in over 40 years. I had also faced all the Olympic medallists who had competed a year earlier in London, and I did so well.”
The world knew that Duenas was, and still is, a force to be reckoned with.
At the 2008 Olympics in China, Duenas placed 39th in the individual category. Four years later, in England, he was 33rd, and in Brazil, in 2016, had improved to 17th in the world.
“I honestly believe that I am better now, but it comes down to how I handle myself,” said Duenas. “Competition on the world stage is always very tough. Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.”
Duenas will take to the Olympics, delayed one year because of the coronavirus pandemic, when the competition begins at Yumenoshima Park on July 22. He hopes to be on the medal podium when the final results are tabulated nine days later.
With his impossible dream now a reality, Duenas is not thinking about retirement from the sport. However, he does think introducing the sport to school age students is something he highly recommends.
“I think it would be great in the TDSB because archery provides for discipline, respect and keeps students interested and involved. It’s also great for bringing those who may be introverted, out of their shell and not have to worry about concussions or getting physically hurt. Archery looks un-athletic, but there is athleticism. I know.”
Duenas also has an attachment to music.
He learned to play the flute, piano and trumpet while in elementary school, then added the drums and guitar to his repertoire in high school while also joining the choir. That guy you may have heard playing the guitar with Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield at the pre-2016 Olympic Excellence Series, was Duenas.
He has trained to the song Hall of Fame, by the group Script, commenting that he finds the masterpiece lyrics to be persuasive and meaningful.
And while archery, his career in education and interest in music have all gone well for Duenas, there is always a reminder of something special.
“I almost lost the opportunity to play sports when my school grades slipped,” he said. “Education always came first, and my parents reminded me. When you look up to the proper people, you can see that it’s possible to be an academic and an athlete.”
David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.
Congratulations to all student athletes who have been recognized by their schools as Senior Athletes of the Year.
2019-2020 Female Athletes of the Year
2019-2020 Male Athletes of the Year
“Wrestling changed my life in a positive way, gave me confidence and I have shown other girls how wrestling might be able to help them, too. ”
By David Grossman
Arely Torales has had a bigger impact on others than her sustained success on the wrestling mat.
Forget the medals and trophies, her ability to bring out the best, particularly in girls adapting to playing sports, is what makes this talented teenager stand out more than awards.
There’s no secret that the work ethic of this bright and tenacious individual has been a factor in the numerous accolades that she earned, while competing for Toronto’s West Humber Collegiate.
Owner of a great smile, a bubbling and cheerful personality, Torales is somewhat of a celebrity at her school.
Not one to brag about her triumphs, the 18-year old instead dishes out appreciation to her coach, teammates and the friend who introduced her to wrestling several years ago.
“I really enjoy wrestling, the challenges, and the preparation,” said Torales, a multi-sport athlete and winner of previous Junior and Senior school Athlete of the Year awards.
It was back in the early years of high school, when a school buddy suggested that she try wrestling. Torales remembers losing her first match, but also recalls bouncing back to win the Toronto District School Board Regional final. The following year, she received gold medals in the Regional and City championships.
Things haven’t changed much as Torales embraced the sport and her skills, combined with techniques and strength in metal toughness and capped her final year at West Humber with more fame and happiness.
She capped an incredible career in the largest school Board in Canada on a winning note. In one day, at the city-wide finals held at her school, Torales won the 51 kilos defeating Bethune Collegiate’s Isabella Tao, then Sarah-Jane Moxam from Albert Campbell Collegiate and finally Esther Tothi from SATEC-Porter. In all three matches, she didn't give up a point.
“I can remember times when I always put myself down, that I wasn’t good enough, adjusting to the language change and not having what it took to get past high school,” said Torales, who wants to pursue a career in nutrition or social work.
“Wrestling changed my life in a positive way, gave me confidence and I have shown other girls how wrestling might be able to help them, too.”
Torales placed second in Ontario (OFSAA) high school competition and was second at the 2019 National finals in Fredericton, N.B.
Bernard Sanchez is not only the West Humber wrestling coach but knows about commitment, toughness and what it takes to be a champion. When he was a high school student. and, coincidentally at West Humber, Sanchez won a Toronto city championship in the 95 kilos.
Saying Torales has the ability to make Canada’s National team one day, Sanchez’s praise for her exceeds fame and citations.
“She’s an amazing person, athlete and very talented,” praised Sanchez, who works as a Special Needs assistant. “When she first showed up (for wrestling), I didn’t think she was the fittest athlete. But, what I do remember is her great attitude, the grit, her smile and wanting to learn.
“She’s also a leader, helps younger students, a great mentor and has this ability to get girls engaged in sports. I see in her, a pursuit of greatness. Tough to find people like her.”
- David Grossman is a veteran award-winning Journalist, Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 40+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.
“This year is something I will remember the rest of my life”T’Kai Roberts, basketball, Kipling Collegiate
There was a buoyant feeling of celebration after Kipling Collegiate had won the Toronto District School Board senior A boys’ basketball championship at Ryerson University.
Jovial cheers, fist pumps, some hugs, posing for photos by players and everything else that goes with hoisting a banner symbolic of a crowning achievement. It was also an exceptional time for a revitalized school, one growing in enrolment and surrounded with community support.
Around the necks of the athletes, a ribbon with a gold medal. It was a huge accomplishment following an impressive performance and a decisive 58-25 win over Georges S. Henry Academy.
It was a nice feeling for the players, to bring a Tier One title to the school for the first time in more than 30 years. The Wildkats, who led from the start and never relinquished the lead, did it with the support of an appreciative crowd of fans that included school buddies, friends and parents.
But the real victory, some believe, came much earlier in the season.
That’s when the team was rocked with adversity and several players suspended for disciplinary reasons. They were re-instated, but only after one-on-one sessions with school Principal Adil Askary, a team meeting and a chance to reflect and learn along with letters of apology.
The Wildkats were given a second chance by the school administration, which had doubts about forming a team earlier in the year. Back then, there was lots of interest from students, but a teacher coach could not be found.
That led to some outstanding work by Kipling’s Athletic Director/Curriculum Leader of Health and Physical Education, Iris Kondakciu, a strong supporter of student extracurricular activities, securing community coaches Vijay Bowen and Kevin Lalonde. They stepped forward with Askary, gung-ho about students benefitting from the combo of academics and athletics, also on the bench as the staff advisor.
Respect went along with a thirst for learning. The challenges were met with success, and the Wildkats put together a winning season going 4-3. Including tournament action, and playoffs, the numbers improved to 8-4.
It was a remarkable turn of events since Kipling, for the previous two years, had only one victory on the hardwood – an exhibition match-up.
“It was a struggle the past few years, but I knew these players had talent, had potential and some of them benefitted from the punishment,” said Bowen, who is a skills development trainer. “What they accomplished in basketball this year was unbelievable and I think it was because they listened, learned and became confident.”
In the championship game, Kipling had quarter score leads of 20-8, 38-17 and 48-20 with clear advantages in rebounding, ball control and on defense. Nelson Akoth was the game’s top scorer with 14 points with Cameron Buckley and James Kwal each adding a dozen. Henry’s top scorer was Bilal Safy with five points.
With the victory, Kipling extends its basketball term, and will represent the Toronto District Secondary Schools Athletic Association at the Ontario high school playoffs, from March 9 to 11, in North Bay.
Askary spoke to his players, after the win, in the team dressing room.
“This has been quite a journey and, as players, you faced a lot of challenges,” said Askary. “There were bumps and bruises along the way and now you’re sitting as champions. You can see what commitment, dedication and working hard can do. The Kipling community is proud of you.”
T’Kai Roberts, a 16-year old forward who is studying in the school’s Culinary Program, clutched his gold medal while recalling the year of hoops.
“We had some rough moments, learned a great deal and we were fortunate to get an opportunity to play,” said the Grade 11 student who broke his pelvis bone and tore a hamstring back in his first year of high school. “Winning this (championship) means a lot. This year is something I will remember the rest of my life.”
Graduating this year is 17-year old Cameron Buckley, a point guard on the Kipling squad.
“It’s an amazing feeling knowing that I’m a champion,” he said. “This year, it was a roller coaster ride. The team came together, we learned from each other - on and off the court. It’s something that will stick with us along time.”
“Sports are fun and I like winning. But, I am always looking for ways to work harder and also help people. It’s a nice thing to do. ” -- Patrick Carstens, 2019 Athlete of the Year at Maplewood High School
When you first meet Patrick Carstens, a young man who is different in so many ways, one thing becomes crystal clear.
It’s his curiosity.
A 17-year old student, Carstens attends Maplewood High School, which is often referred to as a specialized educational facility catering to students with special needs.
Celebrating achievement and inspiring change, for the past four years, Maplewood has been Carstens home away from home, learning, nurturing and trying to take huge steps forward.
But this year has been something special for Carstens, who is autistic and has cognitive learning disabilities. Exuberant and one who can be quite vocal about his success, Carstens has had the public eye and a fair bit of fame and notoriety.
In 2019, he competed at the International Youth Games, the Special Olympics showcase that brought some 2,000 athletes, from around the world, to Toronto. Carstens was selected to light the torch at the Opening Ceremonies.
He wasn’t finished. After some intense track and field competition, Carstens followed through by taking home three medals: two gold and one silver.
Grab a few minutes with him, and he’ll articulate about his success.
Tack on completing his four-year program at Maplewood and graduation, even though Carstens has chosen to stick around for some post-graduate experiential learning. It will also prepare him for life experiences after school and employment in the work force.
A multi-sport athlete, and having competed in everything from track to basketball, floor hockey to soccer, Carstens got the nod as Maplewood’s Athlete of the Year. It was his third time, in the past four years, that the special citation has his name.
The elite junior award, won in grade 9, was his first trip to the winner’s podium. Twice, in the past three years, Carstens was the cream of the crop at Maplewood for senior honours.
“I was very happy when I won (the award) again,” he said. “Sports are fun and I like winning. But, I am always looking for ways to work harder and also help people. It’s a nice thing to do.”
Considered the most reliable player on the school basketball team, and he has never missed a practice, Carstens was also one of the top scorers for Maplewood in the Toronto District School Board’s city-wide tournament for students with special needs.
Having had his share of rough outings, Carstens is also brutally honest.
When asked about how he copes with losing a game, he took some time to contemplate his response. Avoiding any gobbledygook, he said it was his job to shake it off, and provide support for his buddies – especially those taking defeat with a bit more pain.
“What becomes clear to me is his leadership skills,” said Duncan LeBlanc, Principal at Maplewood and also Carsten’s basketball coach. “It’s not always about the best skills, but teamwork. For him, involvement in sports is great, but his sportsmanship is right at the top.
“The thing about (Carstens), when he gets hooked on something and becomes very interested, he really does well. The effort and time he puts in, is just phenomenal.”
Carstens is also a big fan of visual arts, from designs in cartooning to helping design and finish school wall portraits. Overcoming obstacles has been his challenge and one he has met with triumph and good fortune.
As for what lies ahead, Carstens has an answer for that, too. His empathy and compassion for others has him connecting with the community and wanting to work with young people with disabilities.
Megan Edwards - Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate Institute
“…there was a chill of excitement and a feeling of being special among so many other great athletes.”
----Megan Edwards 2019 Athlete of the Year at Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate Institute
By David Grossman
Give Megan Edwards a basketball and then sit back and watch her.
She’s quite energetic, a scorer and her passing, shooting and defensive games are all very sound and intense. In a game, it’s full throttle ferocity, regardless of the opposing team.
For Edwards, her intuition for the game of hoops is something special. When people who know the sport watch her in competition, Edwards has all the pieces to not only dominate a game, but to also take it to the next level.
At 18 years of age, the 5-foot-11 forward had exceeded expectations as a standout high school player while also displaying strength on the court and dignity off of it.
Graduating with academic honours this year from Sir Oliver Mowat Collegiate, Edwards had little difficulty exhibiting her prodigious glitzy play, game-after-game, adding a winning personality, and had recruiting university coaches hoping for the best.
As good as she was in basketball, it wasn’t the only sport that had Edwards combining raw talent with enthusiasm and assuming all that comes with sudden fame. In fact, some believe she is a better soccer player with phenomenal performances under pressure.
For Edwards, sharing the awards stage included selection of Most Valuable Player in basketball, then soccer and also Ultimate Frisbee – all in her final year at Mowat. Topping it off, school coaches unanimously selected her as the overall school female Athlete of the Year.
When the announcement of the prestigious award was made at the school celebration, there stood Edwards, shaken, speechless and soaking in what had just happened – sudden fame.
“It was surreal and it means so much to me,” she said. “There was a time when I heard people say that I had won my share of awards. Then, to get picked as the top female athlete – there was a chill of excitement and a feeling of being special among so many other great athletes.
Edwards, presented with a glass trophy recognizing her dominant athletic talent, said, as a youngster, she would hope a day would come when her hard work, effort and determination would result in recognition.
“I never thought something like this would happen – it has been the most exciting year of my life,” said Edwards, who has come a long way since those elementary years at Blaisdale Montessori and Rouge Valley Public.
“I have learned not to focus on one sport, when you can be contributing and great at others. Never give up pursuing dreams.”
While Edwards’ name didn’t have the miraculous buzzer-beater or had her name trend on social media, she was also superb as the keeper on the Mowat soccer team and instrumental in the club winning a Toronto District School Board East Division title.
A role model for young girls, with character and charisma, and hoping to empower them to get involved in sports, Edwards is trying to live up to the high expectations that she has created for herself.
Ready to move on, Edwards is taking her talent to the University of Toronto after accepting a basketball scholarship. Articulate in many ways, she is aware that every play on the hardwood will be analyzed and dissected. She plans to study kinesiology and is interested in a career in physiotherapy or teaching.
Jeremy Crane, head of Physical and Education at Mowat, had huge accolades for Edwards referring to her as “an unbelievable athlete”.
“Sometimes, it can be very tough picking a school-wide award winner,” said Crane. “Edwards was a slam dunk. All the coaches agreed. She was always playing a sport, contributing, well-liked and when our numbers were down for volleyball, having never played the sport, she filled in and we advanced to the Ontario playoffs.”
In addition to sport and academics, Edwards takes great pride being in the spotlight as a fashion model doing runway shows.
Edwards has had some memorable times in her life. As a seven-year old, she found a wallet at a gas station and turned it in. There was also the time she had to cope with a concussion. It was back in grade 8, and spending time in the hospital, after getting kicked in the face playing soccer in the Unionville Ontario Player Development league.
“I have seen what sports can do for a student. It brings the school together. If there were no sports, there’d be no fun...” -------- Ju Eun Lee
By David Grossman
Sometimes the moment can get too big, a bit nerve-wracking, intimidating in a certain way and even quite overwhelming.
But then, there is also a quiet confidence that shows up and the conversations that follow, as in the case with Martingrove Collegiate student athlete Ju Eun Lee, clearly depicts a genuine politeness along with a passion to always reach for the top.
Lee gives no evidence that she is the kind of person who will shy away from a challenge. It has been part of her modus operandi. Those characteristic traits now switch from being one of the oldest students graduating from Martingrove, to the youngest group about to continue studies at McMaster University in Hamilton.
It’s only natural for Lee, every now and then, to think of her amazing journey.
As a five year old, she immigrated, with her family, from South Korea to Canada.Toronto would be her new home, and education started at Humberwood Downs Junior Middle Academy before moving on to Martingrove. Academics and athletics always topped her list of priorities – but she always found room for other things.
Leaving Martingrove with an astonishing achievement in the classroom, a 96.8 per cent average, Lee was also on the awards podium for sports. In her final year, she was the recipient of the school senior female Athlete of the Year award. No big surprise to many, as Lee was the choice of coaches, back in grade 10, for the junior title.
“When I came to Canada, my parents saw no value in me competing in sports,” she recalled. “But coaches saw potential, encouraged me to try and my parents saw that I was having fun and still doing well in my grades.
“I have seen what sports can do for a student. It brings the school together. If there were no sports, there’d be no fun, no opportunities to build teamwork, friends, take on challenges - and it would almost be like a prison.”
A multi-sport competitor, Lee had an idea that she would be nominated for the top female athletic award. But, always respectful of others, she was prepared if someone else had won.
Soccer, badminton and ultimate Frisbee were her sport preferences this past year and she also took on a leadership role as team captain for two of them. When not on the field or in the gym, Lee played the flute in the school band, volunteered to coach young girls in community soccer and helped out on special occasions at a local senior citizens home.
“I leave Martingrove with some great memories – and that includes when they called my name as the top female athlete in my final year,” she said. “It was something very special and whenever I look at the plaque they gave me, it will bring back wonderful times.”
“She’ll be a standout no mater what she does going forward,” praised Andrew Youssef, Martingrove’s Curriculum Leader for Health and Physical Education/Athletics. “Her ability is something special and her skills, in sport, are crystal clear when she steps on the field or in the gym.”
As for Lee’s proudest moment at Martingrove, her answer may come as a surprise. No winning goal or league championship, but something even more special to her.
“Back in grade 10, there was no girls soccer team as the school just couldn’t get a commitment from students and I knew, going forward, that something had to be done,” she said.
“In grade 11, I was involved in rebuilding a team and it was made up of players with very little experience. In the end, we beat our arch rival (Richview collegiate), to win the Regional title. That was something special and proved to all of us that when we focus on teamwork and success, good things can often happen.”
" It’s a wonderful feeling and looking back, it’s quite an honour ”
Some would say that it is still early in his athletic career, but 17-year old Cole Ketrrzynski has already hit the spotlight several times with some celebrated moments – and many he’ll cherish for the rest of his life.
Ketrrzynski doesn’t need his size to get noticed.
He’s 6-foot-7, but on the volleyball court, he’s much taller - a masterpiece at all elements of the game. Not one for glitz and glamour, his dominance, on numerous occasions, has been anything short of spectacular.
Ketrrzynski doesn’t have an agent just yet, not even a deal with a sporting goods outlet, but he has just about everything he can handle right now. He’s off to the West Coast on an athletic scholarship to UCLA. Some know it as the University of California in Los Angeles.
A key member of the two-time Canadian National 18-and-under championship squad, a Metro (Toronto) high school gold medalist, numerous Most Valuable Player awards and, well, the list of trophies and medals goes on and on.
The latest prize of distinction, for the talented power hitter, came during the year-end salute to athletes at York Mills Collegiate.
It was his high school graduating year and, sitting anxiously at a banquet hall table, knowing the presentation of the top male athlete award was up for grabs. Ketrzynski, who was also the top scorer on the school basketball team that lost in the playoffs, figured he had a chance among a slew of talented competitors.
Volleyball coach and physical education teacher Steven Kung was called to make the announcement – something he had done several times in past.
“I was hopeful and anxious and when I heard some things that sounded like he was referring to me – it hit me,” said Ketrzynski, who was presented with an award made of glass. “He called my name. It’s a wonderful feeling and looking back, it’s quite an honour.”
Earlier in the evening, Ketrzynski accepted the volleyball team MVP award.
While great volleyball genes can run in the family, worth noting is that Ketrzynski’s father competed in volleyball for Canada at the 1984 Olympics. His older brother, also a volleyball player, had won the same York Mills top male athlete award a year earlier.
“In my mind, (Cole) is Team Canada material all the way and was a monster stud for us in volleyball that put our school on the map,” said Kung. “He’s respectful and responsible along with being calm and composed. (Ketrzynski) is the kind of leader you would want on your team. Just top notch in everything.”
In his three years at York Mills, Ketrzynski leaves having played on three consecutive Toronto District School Board championship teams. He’s also won three North Region titles and two provincial high school medals.
With so much creativity in his play, a luminous talent, he may have been the soul and spirit of the team and something that started when he was at the learning stages back in grade school at Owen Public School followed by Windfields Junior High. It was in grade 6, at the age of 11, that volleyball became his sport specialty.
His success, over the years, hasn’t come without a price – a concussion in grade 11, when a volleyball hit him in the head. Ketrzynski also sustained a torn shoulder muscle that kept him away from the game for several months.
Just after returning from a gold medal team win for Ontario at the Canada Games, he re-injured the shoulder – likely rushing back to play too quickly. After appearing in a remarkable 11 sets in one day, and competing in some of the top high school teams in Ontario, he was instrumental in York Mills winning that Waterloo-based event.
“There was a time when I got a bit worried,” said Ketrzynski. “That was when I went to see the doctor and he hinted that my volleyball career was in jeopardy. It was time to focus on getting the shoulder stronger and not pushing things to quickly.”
Having expanded the parameters of athletic fame at York Mills, Ketrzynski now turns his focus on studying physics, earning a Degree in Engineering and playing pro volleyball in Europe.
David Grossman is a multi award-winning communicator and storyteller with a distinguished career in Broadcasting, Journalism and Public Relations in Sport and Government Relations
***For a full list of all TDSB Secondary Athletes of the Year 2018-19 - Click Here ***