Terry Radchenko (left) and Ross Risstuccia (right) accepting their award. SEAN SMITH/THE VARSITY

Two U of T track coaches were presented with a Good-to-Great Coach Award on September 17 at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity and VIP; Terry Radchenko and Ross Ristuccia were among the 11 coaches honoured with Ontario Coaching Excellence Awards by the Coaches Association of Ontario.

The awards ceremony was held as part of the second annual National Coaches Week and it paid tribute to coaches of all kinds. David Currie, who was the winner of the male Grassroots Coach Award, coaches a Giant-Tiger sponsored boys’ hockey team in Sarnia. He shared the stage with Casey Curtis, former coach of Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic. Curtis was presented with the Andy Higgins Lifetime Achievement Award, despite still actively coaching tennis.

As part of the ceremony, emceed by CBC Sports’ Brenda Irving, there was a short film presented for each of the award winners preceding their award presentation and speeches.

Every one of the award winners were inspirational. In spite of the accolade they were receiving, the speeches were never self-centred but rather focused on how wonderful it is to serve their communities and athletes. Their humility did not seem feigned nor affected. Kevin Sandy, who won the Aboriginal Impact Coach Award, described coaching as a way of bolstering the social fabric, teaching spirituality, and, above all, encouraging respect.

The respect central to Sandy’s coaching method was given back to the coaches by their athletes. Winner of the Everyone Matters Coach Award Craig Blackman listened to his entourage cheer for him as if they were at a sporting event; their raucous affection and the shouted ‘I love you’ would have seemed out of place, in an otherwise quiet theatre, had it not been so sincere.

An excellent morning was unfortunately punctuated by an unsatisfactory speech given by the Honourable Eleanor McMahon, Ontario’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, who was present to hand out the awards. Amidst a chorus of selfless speeches by community servants, her succession of self-referential personal pronouns and policy plugs produced a dissonant note, however, only temporarily. If the dissonance was noticed, it wasn’t mentioned, and the ceremony continued as before.

Of the seven award categories, the Good-to-Great Coach category is the only one that specifies not just development of athletes but also performance at a higher level — typically at a national or provincial level. This is what Radchenko and Ristuccia do with the Varsity Blues on a daily basis.

Radchenko, who was an OUA gold medalist in 1995, coaches middle distance running and has been with the University of Toronto Track Club since 2004. Ristuccia coaches distance and cross-country for the Varsity Blues and has been involved in coaching for decades. Ristuccia, a retired school teacher, was named CIS Women’s Coach of the Year in 2002. Both coaches have been involved in training a number of great mid- and long-distance runners in their career. Recently, they coached Gabriela Stafford to a national championship and a place on the national team at Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Coaches always play a supporting role; attention is almost always paid to the athletes. It was fitting then that the award winners accepted their honours with grace and humility. In the video for Radchenko and Ristuccia, an athlete described his running coaches with a pun — perhaps intended — when he said, “They’re there for the long run.”

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