The Observer’s Natalie Sequeira brings you Scarborough’s high school sports stars
Setting his sights forward
Nathaneal Cameron has played baseball since he was five, but his heart lies in the speed and agility he brings to rugby.
Unlike football and baseball — where he plays outside linebacker and punter, and centre field and second base respectively — with rugby, he revels in the freedom that comes with no equipment besides the ball.
Cameron, 18, plays fullback and winger on the Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate rugby team. He plans on showing off his skills in university, where he aims to get a shot at playing professionally.
Earlier this year, Cameron also played for Rugby Ontario’s Junior Blues U18 team. The summer brought some of his fondest memories. Not only did he face teams from around the world, but the highlight of his burgeoning rugby career was going to the national championships in Calgary in August, where he faced teams from British Columbia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Cameron’s mother drove him to become such a sports fan. When he was five, she enrolled him in a small house league baseball team to keep him healthy and active. He stuck with the sport until he was 17, when he decided to take a break to pursue football in grade 10. His coaches then introduced him to rugby. He fell in love with the game and doesn’t intend on looking back anytime soon.
Now, his mother holds her breath every time he plays the rough-and-tumble game, and he hears the sigh of relief whenever he calls to tell her the game went well and he is all right. He hasn’t had anything beyond a muscle spasm thus far, and hopes to keep his clean record with injuries going strong.
Cameron is in his final year of high school and is looking at universities in Ontario with the best rugby programs. So far, he’s narrowed his list down to the University of Guelph or Brock University, where he will also be looking at English and history programs.
All for the fun of the game
Nicole Crawford grew up at a hockey rink, watching her two older brothers play hockey, dreaming about being out on the ice. Her sporty parents supported her and enrolled her in hockey programs. She also picked up soccer, another sport her brothers played.
Now Crawford, 17 and in her final year at Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate, plays field hockey (defence), rugby 7s and 15s (scrum half), and is on the swimming team.
But her favourite is the fast-paced game that landed her in hospital.
In grade 10, at the end of the first half in the first game of the season, Crawford made what she thought would be a tackle like any other.
This time, though, a girl landed on her and broke Crawford’s collar bone. The thought of that crack still makes her cringe. She had to wait until the next season to rejoin the game, and although she got right back into it, it wasn’t without trepidation.
Her love for the game and her team kept her motivated, and after changing her tackling style to make things safer, she’s kept at it — which has kept her parents happy, albeit on the edges of their seats.
Being part of a team sport also draws Crawford to field hockey and rugby. Despite differences off the field, she says, when playing the game, everyone copes with each other and works together to make great plays.
With swimming, she strives to attain a personal best in any competition. But her greatest memories come from rugby, where her team came through as city champs last summer after winning eight out of nine games in the Tier 2 competition.
It’s this team spirit and fun that will keep Crawford pursuing her sports interests as an extracurricular activity, feeling no draw from extremely competitive or professional levels.
She is currently deciding on a career path beyond high school, and is looking at degrees in special education or sociology and psychology at the University of Guelph or University of Toronto.
Looking to stay on the field
Jeff Miller easily admits shedding a few tears over losing a very special game. It was the last football game he would ever play at his high school, and his team lost in the championship game against Agincourt CL. It was one of the saddest moments for Miller, 18.
A senior at Sir John A. Macdonald Collegiate, Miller is a great fan of football, loving it for the hard-hitting, fast-paced nature he plays starting quarterback in. He’s had several concussions from the game and shattered his little finger in grade 9 when he was a linebacker, but hasn’t been turned off the game one bit.
Although he delights in the fun of football, his athletic passions also lie in baseball.
He’s been playing baseball since he was two years old thanks to his father and now plays as starting pitcher on his school team, which has won back-to-back championships, and also plays for Team Ontario Baseball.
Miller’s talents branch further. He is also a long-distance runner for track and field and is a first line right winger for hockey, a game he also started at a young age.
Miller will never stop playing sports. He says his fascination with the games come from being able to keep fit. Miller works out every day, practicing at least six times a week at school.
In his last year of school, Miller is looking into colleges in Texas, Arizona and Minnesota, where he wants to continue with football or baseball at a junior college level. He also intends on enrolling in either sports management or law enforcement—something he’s also been interested in since he was a kid.
Making a run for it
Cassandra Jones’ fondest memory is having Team South Africa, Team New Zealand and her fellow Canadians sing her Happy Birthday at the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Isle of Man in September.
The 17-year-old track and field fan has only been running for about a year and a half, but has gone from a speedy soccer player to an adrenaline-loving 400-metre runner.
Jones runs track and field for Stephen Leacock Collegiate and is also a member of the University of Toronto Junior Blues athletics club.
Running wasn’t something she had considered, until her best friend took her to a track meet after consistently watching her run faster than the girls and boys on the school’s soccer teams. Despite a torn hip flexor and shin splints that put her out of commission for months, she hasn’t stopped running since.
Jones has been lucky with her track record. Just a month after she started training, she won at the Ontario Federation of Schools Athletics Associations (OFSAA) in the 400-metre and 800 metre events. It was unexpected, and a thrill for Jones.
But behind Jones’ achievements is the drive she gets from her family. It’s watching and hearing her brothers cheer her on at every event that keeps Jones channeling their excitement through to the finish line. Jones says she also runs for her sister, who passed away four years ago.
When Jones wants to take a break from the stress of track and field, she plays volleyball for her school team, a sport she also loves, more so for the relationships she builds with fellow players. She’s been team captain multiple times, playing as middle for three years before switching to power.
Jones will be graduating next summer, and has already received scholarships from universities in the U.S for her speed. She hasn’t made any decisions yet, but doesn’t intend to stray from the beaten track any time soon.
A goal to beat his inspiration
Mohib Abdali is slightly hesitant to admit it, but with a sly smile he admits he’s sure he’s achieved his childhood goal of beating his brother at basketball.
Abdali, 17, is a shooting guard for the Stephen Leacock Collegiate basketball team, keeping up a sport he’s loved since he first dribbled a ball in first grade.
He grew up watching his brother play, and decided he wanted to be better than him, so he upped his game over the years, and now avoids squaring off against his brother because things get a little too competitive.
He shares his passion for basketball with what he describes as a natural affinity for volleyball, which he plays middle for. Another sport he got into when he was a child, Abdali used to watch his father play, and started joining in for friendly matches with his father’s friends. Volleyball comes easily to him, and although he has to put a lot more effort into basketball, it’s the sport he ranks higher.
Abdali has dabbled in soccer, badminton and hockey, but didn’t take a liking to any of them.
What he does like about any sport he looks to get involved in, is the team effort. Playing with others, he says, brings out the best in you because you have to build yourself to avoid letting anyone down.
Recalling several championships his teams have reached but lost in, it’s his love of being in a team that still makes these his fondest memories.
Abdali isn’t too focused on playing professionally. It’s something he’ll take in stride if it happens, but for now he’s hoping to get into Ryerson University or the University of Toronto for criminology and hopefully make it onto a university basketball or volleyball team.
He graduates at the end of this year, and if all goes well, his last game at Stephen Leacock will be the basketball playoffs in March.