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.
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.
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.