Student athletes compete for first time in OFSAA Track and Field

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Muskies track and field athletes achieved many personal bests last week at the NorWOSSA championship in Thunder Bay. Snagging medals across a variety of events, six athletes have earned their place to compete in the 2023 OFSAA Track and Field Championships in Ottawa this week.

Many are competing regionally for the first time, said head coach John Dutton, adding that the athletes will be representing a mix of events such as discus throwing, hurdle races, and distance running.

“There’s a whole mix for almost every event,” he said. “It’s really nice.”

“There’ll be somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 athletes [at OFSAA]. It’s amazing. It’s an experience that if you have the chance it’s worth going to see because it’s incredible athletics at a high school level.”

Regarding his team’s performance at NorWOSSA last week, Dutton said he is very pleased with the results.

“Their performances were very good. Win or lose, or wherever they finished up, we had a lot of personal bests, a lot of personal records, and that’s our goal in the first place. OFSAA is just icing on the cake,” he said.

This year, many OFSAA athletes are in their senior year of high school.

At the NorWOSSA competition in Thunder Bay last week, Leah Seguin, Grade 12, won medals at every event she competed in, and qualified to compete in OFSAA for the 400-metre hurdle and high jump events. “It went really well,” she said.

Between evening practices last week, she said she had also been preparing for another once-in-a-lifetime high school event.

“I have prom tomorrow,” Seguin told the Times at the time of the interview. “Leaving [for OFSAA on] Wednesday, so it doesn’t leave a lot of time [for training]. I think we have a practice tomorrow morning, which I doubt I’ll be able to make because of prom and everything, I have to get my hair done. But Monday and Tuesday we have practice.”

Many track and field athletes had previously lost their chance to compete at OFSAA due to the pandemic, Seguin said. “It ruined all my under years, so I haven’t been able to go for track and field at all.

Seguin has been running with the high school track team for six years, joining when she was in Grade 7.

She thanks her family and coach Dutton for their continued support. Planning to attend a school in Kingston, Ontario, after her senior year for a medical lab assistant program, she hopes to find track and field clubs to join.

Similarly, Trent Wilson, Grade 12, said the pandemic affected his ability to compete in OFSAA in the past.

This year, he qualified to compete at OFSAA for the 800 and 1500 metre runs.

“I think we’re just going to keep up with our regular routine. And just kind of keep that edge,” Wilson said, explaining what the team had been up to before leaving for regionals.

To overcome his nerves before a race, Wilson likes to keep his mind focused on his goal.

“It’s really a lot of mental. You just have to say, ‘you can do it’ and be positive and I just went for it and it all goes away,” he said.

One of the greatest lessons he has learned from coach Dutton was how to keep going in any scenario.

“Mostly just how to keep on track and keep pushing through any kind of scenario like whether it’s hot, cold, if you’re having a bad day or whatever,” Wilson said. “I would like to thank my coach, Mr. Dutton, and my parents for supporting me through it all.”

Wilson plans to attend Lakehead University after his senior year and hopes to continue competing in cross country and track and field.

Benjamin Huziak, Grade 11, qualified for the discus event at OFSAA.

His final distance at the NorWOSSA championship last week was 34.75 metres. Being younger than most of his competitors, Huziak said he is very proud of the results.

“It went very well. For being in Grade 11 especially, it’s hard to qualify. I’m competing against Grade 12s and maybe Grade 13s as well. So it went very well. I think the closest person to me was a good four or five metres behind my distance,” he said.

Entering regional competition with reasonable expectations and a positive mindset is important, Huziak said, adding that he looks forward to having fun more than anything.

“For track and field, it’s my first time going to OFSAA,” he said. “For me, personally, I’m not really looking to do too well, I want to be in the top 20 obviously, I’m not looking to win or anything like that. That’s not a realistic goal at this time. So I’m looking at more of an experience for fun than anything. And then to come back next year, and hopefully do better.”

Huziak got into discus throwing by following in the footsteps of his older brother Sean. He started “messing around” in Grade 8 by throwing the discus at the local ballpark.

Grade 9 was the “COVID year” which gave Huziak more time to experiment with his throws.

“My brother used to have a piece of plywood that you could rotate for throwing. I would use that and stuff like that, and just kept on practicing since then,” he said.

The difference between throwing a discus weighted 1kg and 1.6kg lies in the form required, Huziak said, explaining one of the biggest learning curves he had to overcome.

“In Grade 10, you throw a 1kg discus. And in grades 11 and 12 you throw 1.6 kg. And with the 1kg discus, you don’t need as much form, you can throw just off brute strength. With a 1.6, you do a lot more form. So I really had to crack down on that,” he said.

Majority of his practices happen in the evenings. Since joining his high school track and field team, Huziak said Dutton has been a great coach and has given him visual cues on how to improve his form.

“Of course, John is very more focused on running and throwing,” Huziak said. “But he’s definitely a great coach still for what he does know.”

“He really helps with stuff like form, he can visually see and tell me what looks wrong, he knows the form of everything, and he takes videos of my throw and I can go back and look at it,” he said.

Describing himself as a small town guy, Huziak said he hopes to stay nearby and look into a natural resource field of study at Lakehead University, while continuing to pursue sports where opportunities arise.

Reflecting on this year’s season, coach Dutton said they had the biggest team he’s ever had with about 75 members, which “bodes well” for the future of track and field.

“I’ve got a lot of really keen Grade 7 and 8s. And in my experience, it’s really hard to grab those kids in Grade 9. So one of the reasons we really push hard for seven to eights is so they know there’s an alternative sport for them out there,” he said.

“Even though they might not consider themselves a runner, they could be a thrower or a jumper or they could be a combination of different ones. So it’s been great to see this many kids out. And I just hope that it continues. I hope to be back next year doing it again.”

The Muskies Track and Field team headed to OFSAA for the first time. The Championship takes place in Ottawa from June 8 to 10, 2023. – Facebook photo

Dutton has been coaching track and field since 2006 during a time when his daughters were still on the cross country team. The former coaches had moved on so Dutton said he “got together with a young teacher and the two of [them] kicked things into gear and [have] never looked back.”

The enthusiasm he sees in students performing music and competing in track and field are very similar, Dutton said.

He retired from his position as a music teacher at the high school in 2009.

“They’re pretty keen in music and so you get kids who are enthusiastic and they want to be there. And the kids that I coach are exactly the same. Enthusiastic, they like to be there. They work hard. Some days they make me feel old. Some days they make me feel young.”

He shared his gratitude for staff member and coach Angela Petsnick, former high school basketball coach, for her continued help coaching the Grade 7 and 8 teams.

“[She] has worked with me since her daughters began competing in 2016,” Dutton said, adding that former team members from the school have also volunteered their time.

“We have been fortunate for the past two seasons to have a couple of former team members return from school and give some coaching time to the team.”

“Most notably Ellie Petsnick who came out and helped with jumping events for about a month the past two years before her summer employment kicked in. You can imagine with 75 athletes, just how much we appreciate having Elli and Ang there.”

The OFSAA competition takes place in Ottawa from June 8 to 10. Dutton and the student athletes will head to Ottawa on Wednesday, June 7, and return on Sunday, June 11.