HIGH HOPES

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE MIL­TON

SE­NIOR GIRLS WIN­NER Jaden Mullings, of Ray Lewis Ele­men­tary School, goes over the bar on the way to cap­tur­ing the gold medal in the high jump event on Thurs­day at the 92nd Hamil­ton In­door Games held at FirstOn­tario Cen­tre. High school ath­letes take over the track and field Fri­day. For Steve Mil­ton’s story on a busy day of record-break­ing com­pe­ti­tion, turn to — and for more pho­tos of the Games visit

Mark Sk­erl was the last one stand­ing in the se­nior boys high jump, and there was no one run­ning on the track, so all eyes — about 1,000 pairs of them — were on him.

He ap­proached the pit in the de­lib­er­ate lop­ing arc, which pre­cedes the clas­sic flop take­off, and when he cleared the bar at 1.65 me­tres, it trig­gered a bomb of high-pitched screams from the other ele­men­tary school ath­letes at First-On­tario Cen­tre.

The 14-year-old Grade 8 stu­dent from Stoney Creek’s St. Clare of As­sisi wasn’t far off the meet record at Thurs­day’s Hamil­ton In­door Games, as he won three of his four events and fin­ished sec­ond in the other.

And he had never even tried high jump be­fore Mon­day, when his fa­ther, Frank, placed two bench press posts on the drive­way and had Mark launch him­self over a length of string he’d tied to each post. The land­ing pit was an old mat­tress.

“My dad sug­gested I go and try high jump. He said, ‘You have noth­ing to lose.’”

Sk­erl didn’t do much los­ing in the morn­ing and af­ter­noon. Af­ter win­ning the high jump, he won his 300 me­tre heat by the length of a straight­away, but fin­ished sec­ond in over­all time to his friend, Lach­lan Perig­ord of St. Au­gus­tine. Late in the day Sk­erl won the long jump on his fi­nal leap.

Only min­utes af­ter the ex­haust­ing two-lap sprint over the an­cient bouncy track Harold Bal­lard sold the city from Maple Leaf Gar­dens, Sk­erl had to dash into the lower con­course for the triple jump.

Won that one, too, and by now it prob­a­bly comes as no sur­prise that he had never tried that tricky hop-step-and-jump event un­til Tues­day. Natasha Di Francesco, a St. Clare par­ent and a former track athlete her­self, gave him about two hours worth of point­ers.

With 700 ath­letes from 26 ele­men­tary schools, ex­cel­lent ath­letes — many of them mem­bers of lo­cal track clubs — flooded the FirstOn­tario Cen­tre.

But it was also about par­tic­i­pa­tion. Many Grade 6 to 8 stu­dents were run­ning, jump­ing or throw­ing in real in­door track con­di­tions for the first time in their lives.

In most run­ning, throw­ing and jump­ing events, an ele­men­tary-athlete can make an easy tran­si­tion from other sports. But the high jump and triple jump are tech­ni­cal and take unique re­quire­ments.

Sk­erl and his dad (who high­jumped in ele­men­tary school) down­loaded videos to nail ba­sic tech­niques that re­sulted in a cou­ple of vic­to­ries in events that, a week ear­lier, he barely knew ex­isted.

“It’s kind of weird,” Sk­erl said of the triple jump. “You jump onto the same foot then jump again. In bas­ket­ball, you go in for a layup you don’t jump onto the same foot. I have trou­ble with that last step.”

Sk­erl plays rep bas­ket­ball, foot­ball and soc­cer in Stoney Creek and wants to do all three, plus track and cross-coun­try, when he en­rols at Car­di­nal Newman in the fall.

“He’s been like this since Grade 4, in­cred­i­ble in ev­ery­thing he does,” mar­vels one of his teach­ers, Jamie Mota, who brought a small (three ath­letes) St. Clare team to the meet for the first time, in the hopes of ex­pand­ing in­ter­est at the school. “He’s the type of kid — we’ve been say­ing it for a while — who’s go­ing to do some­thing, some­where.”

At least three meet records were bro­ken: Kristina Vin­cic of CH Bray set a new stan­dard in the ban­tam girls long jump; Justin de Zoete of R.A. Rid­dell broke the record in the ju­nior boys’ 300 me­tres, and Dar­rius Mullings of Ray Lewis smashed one of the old­est (1992) records with his ban­tam boys’ long jump.

Even the par­ents got into the act. Tara Bo­s­tock, whose kids at­tend R.A. Rid­dell, stepped in to run a re­lay leg when the fourth mem­ber of the Peel Po­lice team didn’t make it to the meet. They lost to Toronto Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices, as the High­landers try to breathe a polic­ing as­pect back into the Games.

The Games, run for the 92nd time by the 91st High­landers, con­clude Fri­day with the high school meet. For both days’ re­sults: 91track.ca.

BARRY GRAY, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Mark Sk­erl, who cleared the bar to win the se­nior boys’ high jump, wasn’t far off the meet record Thurs­day. He won three events. For more pho­tos, see page S6 and specpho­tos.ca.

PHO­TOS BY BARRY GRAY, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Mia Pail­ment, cen­tre, takes the lead with the ba­ton af­ter a hand-off from Holly Sierra of An­nun­ci­a­tion of Our Lord.

Ath­letes from Calvin Chris­tian watch as a re­lay run­ner from their school reaches to hand off the ba­ton to a wait­ing team­mate.

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