Birchmount Park aims to run for glory – again

There is a popular belief that teams can’t be true champions until they defends their title, a thought the cross-country squad at Birchmount Park is taking to heart.

A year after winning the midget boy’s championship at the OFSAA year-end track meets, the team is back at it this fall with the goal bringing a second straight championship back home to south Scarborough again.

“I think we’ve got a good chance for the midget boys to repeat as champions,” said head track coach and Birchmount Park teacher Glenn Duncan during a practice Thursday. “They are great kids.”

With the 2011 OFSAA championships scheduled for Nov. 5 in Ottawa, the team doesn’t have much time to prepare, but the coach isn’t worrying.

“The biggest thing is that the kids come out regularly and do the training for the next month and show improvement,” said Duncan of his team’s practice regiment, which includes runs five days a week after school and sometimes on weekends.

It’s the reason Duncan is confident his team is ready to prevail yet again, adding that track meet in Rochester, N.Y., will only help prepare the boys for OFSAA.

In fact, Birchmount Park has had a lot of success in recent years, winning the 2008 OFSAA title for overall boys, as well as the aforementioned 2010 title.

But not only has the team excelled, it has also seen its players achieve personal success stories.

A group of former Birchmount Park runners have gone on to the United States, leaving for the greener pastures of big American universities that place a massive emphasis on athletics and offer enticing scholarship packages.

“Aaron Brown, now at the University of Southern California,” Duncan said. “He’s won a few different medals. He’s got a silver medal from the world youths in the 100 metres, a bronze in the world juniors, and won a couple medals at Pan-Am juniors last year.”

But Duncan, who has been involved with the Birchmount Park cross-country and track teams for seven years, says he can’t take all the credit for his students’ successes.

He thinks the school itself is a breeding ground for top athletes of all sports, and with star NHLers like Wayne Simmonds and Anthony Stewart once attending the school, there is certainly validation to his belief.

“We have an exceptional athlete program at Birchmount,” Duncan said.

And while it hasn’t been easy, Duncan has been able to get top athletes from other sports to cross over and try their hand at running.

“We get a lot of hockey players, soccer players,” said Duncan about who tries out for the team. “They start coming out to do cross-country and find it helps with their other sports. Sometimes they make a complete conversion to running.”

Duncan was quick to offer an example of the benefits one receives by participating in the sport he loves.

“There’s the obvious physical benefits, such as improved endurance and overall health,” Duncan said. “Then there’s the discipline you learn, the lessons from hard word, and the camaraderie developed between the guys.”

The coach also doesn’t think students have to look at athletics and academics as separate from each other, believing instead the two complement each other.

“Academics are very important,” Duncan said. “I get attendance reports on the team every day to make sure they are in class. I check their marks and if they are not up to par I work with them and their parents and teachers.”

With a leader like Duncan at the helm, expect the success stories at Birchmount Park to continue.

“I just love coaching these kids,” Duncan said.