Standing on stage at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion June 14, Haliburton Highlands Secondary School (HHSS) teacher Janice Scheffee was drowned out by a chorus of cheers after saying “finally, we’re back” prior to the school’s 43rd annual athletic awards ceremony.

“This is an extra special celebration for us as it’s the first time in four years we’ve been able to get together and honour our Red Hawk athletes. It’s hard to believe, but this is the first time any of our wonderful athletes have attended an end-of-year ceremony,” Scheffee said. “I want to congratulate everyone here today for showing resiliency and commitment to sport. I know it hasn’t been easy.”

HHSS fielded 16 teams during the 2022-2023 school year, winning Kawartha championships, COSSA titles and seeing cross country runners, Nordic skiers, wrestlers, badminton players and track and field athletes blaze their way through provincial competition at OFSAA.

The cross-country team, coached by Karen Gervais, had a successful season with three athletes, Evan Backus, Violet Humphries and Erika Hoare, running and placing well at COSSA.

“We had a small but mighty team,” Gervais said.

Coach Mike Rieger said Nordic skiing returned in a big way this year, with four female athletes testing themselves against some of Ontario’s best up and coming talent at OFSAA. Olivia Humphries finished sixth in the senior girls’ division, with Violet Humphries posting a team-best eighth place finish in the junior event. Erika Hoare and Ella Gervais also placed in the top 15 skiers on the younger circuit.

The junior girls relay team, of Humphries, Hoare, Gervais, and Olivia Gruppe narrowly missed out on a podium finish at provincials, finishing fourth.

Paul Longo said the future is bright for HHSS’ basketball program, with the junior team securing a Kawartha West championship – beating out rival IE Weldon in the final.

Wrestling coach Paul Klose said “it takes a special athlete” to don the singlet, presenting individual awards to the 10-plus member strong team. Levi Samson was the top performer, placing in the top 12 at OFSAA.

It was a big year for badminton, according to coaches Jason Morissette and Mike Gaffney. At the junior level, Lily Casey and Lara Gallant won gold at the Kawartha championships, qualifying them for COSSA as the top seed. “We haven’t seen something like that in a long time,” Morissette said.

At the senior level, Avery Horner and Emmerson Wilson competed at OFSAA in ladies’ doubles after winning silver at COSSA.

It was a record-setting year for track and field, with four school records broken. Violet Humphries set a new HHSS best in the girls’ 800 metre run, shattering a record that had stood since 1996. Erika Hoare posted a new record time in the 2,000 metre steeplechase, finishing 7th at OFSAA in the process. Evan Backus broke two records – in novice boys long jump, setting a new mark of 5.77 metres, and in the 300 metre hurdles, finishing with a new personal best of 42.01 to win silver at provincials.

Coach Gervais reserved special credit for Graham Backus, who finished a triple crown champion at the Kawartha championships, winning three events. Liah Gallant won gold at Kawartha for the 100 metre sprint, with Jordana Jennings placing first in long jump. In total, 16 of 23 competing athletes qualified for OFSAA this year.

Major awards

Grade 12 student Ivan Zagorsky was named senior male athlete of the year, after excelling in basketball, soccer, and badminton, while Emmerson Wilson took female top honours having competed in rugby, soccer, badminton, and volleyball this year.

“Sir Isaac Newton said ‘if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’. Ivan was that giant that allowed his teammates to reach their potential,” said Rob Gervais, who coached Zagorsky in soccer. “He has shown time and time again that he’s not just a great athlete, but also a great leader and role model.”

Volleyball coach Dan Gimon said Wilson is “a tenacious competitor through and through” and was well deserving of her award.

Speaking to The Highlander following last week’s ceremony, Wilson said she was honoured to be named female athlete of the year.

“It feels amazing. It’s validation for all the hard work and extra time I put in, just doing my best,” Wilson said. “My biggest takeaway is if you want something bad enough, put in the work and keep pushing through. Persistence does pay off.”

Evan Backus and Erika Hoare each received the rising Red Hawk award, recognizing the efforts of junior athletes in Grades 9 and 10. Major awards, honouring students with continued success in sports over several years, were dished out to Riley Boersman, Abby Dykstra, Stephen Howe, Rio O’Malley, Matthew Wilson, and Noa Yates. Awards of excellence were issued to Zagorsky, Wilson, Liah Gallant, Avery Horner, and Sophie Longo.

Paul Longo and Bob Schmidt were recognized for their combined 53 years of coaching at HHSS with 2023 impact awards.

“A lot of our staff go above and beyond to support the Red Hawk athletic program… these two individuals have spent hundreds of hours in the gym with our students. They have inspired countless athletes to excel in their respective sports. Hal high is fortunate to have them not only as coaches, but as leaders, mentors, and role models for our youth,” said Scheffee.