It wasn’t a relay race, but symbolically Friday, Dom Graf passed the baton to his younger brother Phil.
Dom, a highly-respected four-time city champion, congratulated Phil for winning the Midget Boys Division’s 5-kilometre event at the Northern Ontario Secondary Schools Association (NOSSA) Cross-Country Championships at Kinsmen Park.
For the 17-year-old Dom, a Grade 12 student who finished fifth tops among Sault runners in a competitive Senior Boys 7k field, it marked his final NOSSA appearance.
But 14-year-old Phil, in his first year of high school, is hoping this is just the beginning.
His winning time of 18:19.97 was more than two minutes ahead of Brad Walsh (18:21.99) of St. Mary’s, who placed second.
“This is a good feeling,” said Phil, who also won last week’s city meet and helped the Sir James Dunn team grab a second-place finish in the boys aggregate Friday. “He (Dom) is a role model for me. We run together and he pushes me to do better. I’ve wanted to be like him.”
Saying he “thought the competition would be tougher,” the younger Graf was surprised by his winning time Friday.
Said his older brother: “I’m damn proud of Phil.”
Dom added he “felt a warm feeling go up my chest,” when he saw his brother cross the finish line.
“I’ve been trying to get him ready since Grade 7 and 8,” Dom recalled. “But when he got into Grade 9 he was more serious about running and more dedicated.”
Eagles head coach Pat Sanderson spoke of his pride and said Phil has come a long way.
“He began training with the Sault Stryders July 1 and he’s progressed so quickly,” Sanderson said. “And training with the older runners at the Dunn has pushed him to the next level. Our goal for Phil in July was to do well at the city meet. NOSSA wasn’t even on the radar.”
Phil Graf said he wasn’t in the lead in the early stages of Friday’s race, but pulled ahead about midway through. After that, he said, Walsh took the lead and Graf drafted behind the St. Mary’s runner.
“But I overtook him (Walsh) a little more than 1k from the finish,” Phil Graf said. “This feels pretty good.”
Korah’s Stephen Erickson (18:58.85) finished third among midgets, helping the Colts to that division’s team title. Korah was also third overall in boys aggregate standings.
Individually, SJD’s Tyler Davie (19:03.76) was fourth in midget boys, while the Colts Mackenzie Edwards (19:42.38) wound up in eighth spot. His teammate, Brad Pawson (19:51.42), was 10th, and another Korah runner, Michael DiBerardino (20:14.19), finished 13th.
Twin brothers Matt (23:55.72) and Nick (24:11.87) Walters of North Bay’s West Ferris Trojans, placed 1-2 in the senior event, helping their team grab boys senior and aggregate honours.
Dom Graf’s performance helped the Dunn to third in senior team standings.
Sean Vardy (25:14.79) of St. Mary’s was next best in the senior event with a sixth-place showing. His teammate, Mark Zagordo (26:06.79), also cracked the top 15 by placing 14th.
Meantime, with a second-place showing, Sean Plumley (22:59.41) of White Pines was the top local in the Junior Boys 6k. Devon Cavanaugh (23:32.27) of St. Mary’s earned a third-place showing, helping the Knights win the junior boys team title.
Korah’s Brenden Carson (23:48.36) was fourth, followed by St. Mary’s Matt Fabbro (23:54.29). Thomas Peer (24:01.01) of SJD was eighth, one spot ahead of Andrew Dipsell (24:10.97) of St. Mary’s.
The Eagles Thomas Cameron (24:11.79) finished 10th and Hayden Murray (24:24.31) of the Knights was 12th.
Members of the top two teams in each category, and the next three individuals not qualifying as part of a team, are eligible for the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations (OFSAA) meet, one week from today in Niagara Falls.