Sports Academy focuses on developing well-rounded athletes

by Ron Fanfair
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Tony Sharpe

Winning a silver medal in a relay event at York University in 2006 thrilled Mitchell Sharpe and his young teammates.
Tony Sharpe was also euphoric.
After doing some dryland training with his son’s hockey and soccer teams, the 1984 Olympics sprint relay bronze medalist founded The Speed Academy Athletics Club which specializes in sprints and hurdles.
To focus on building the Pickering-based entity, he transitioned from a two-piece suit to a tracksuit in 2009.
“I was not feeling it anymore,” said Sharpe who spent 16 years in sales at Xerox and Bell Canada. “Those jobs helped me pay the bills and support my family. Track and field was not going to do that.”
In the three years before leaving his corporate job, the club went to elementary meets in the United States.
“My daughters came on board after soccer in Grade 9,” Sharpe recalled. “They told their friends and we started getting scholarships for student-athletes around 2011.”
In the past 13 years, nearly 100 Speed Academy members have received scholarships to attend American universities.
Six-time Olympic medalist Andre DeGrasse, sprinter Wesley Best and 400-metre specialist Shaquan Williams were the club’s first scholarship recipients in 2012.
DeGrasse attended Coffeyville Community College in Kansas before transferring to the University of Southern California in his junior season in 2015.
“Andre came to me when he was in Grade 12 and very raw,” recounted Sharpe who set a Canadian 200-metre record in 1982 with a time of 20.22 secs. “He is such a hard worker and it did not take a lot. We run a good training program and everyone gets better once they adhere to it.”
Christopher Morales Williams, who Sharpe developed from Grade 8, is the latest Speed Academy graduate to make waves.
Named the Southeastern Conference Indoor Runner of the Year last month, the University of Georgia sophomore won the NCAA indoor 400-metre title in 44.67 secs. and set all-time collegiate and Canadian indoor records at the SEC championships in February with a time of 44.49 secs.
It was the third time he had set the Canadian indoor 400-metre record this year.
Morales Williams’ stellar performances do not surprise Sharpe who attended Clemson and York universities.
“Christopher is a natural runner,” he said. “The amount of force he applies to the track and the amount of distance he covers on every stride stand out. People tend to think he is over-striding. He is applying tremendous force in the right place under his hip.
“He has unlimited potential not just because of his physical attributes, but also because of his mentality and the way he prepares. He is gifted and getting stronger and more confident. When you combine that with his work ethic and commitment, the sky is the limit. An outdoor record is doable because he has all the tools.”
Aliyah Logan started hurdling in 2019 when she joined the Speed Academy. On a scholarship at New Mexico State University, she set a personal best of 8.21 secs. in the 60-metre hurdles at the Don Kirby International last January.
“I am so grateful for what all the coaches have done for my daughter and the other kids,” said Nancy Chambers. “Even though she is away, they keep up with what she is doing. It is a good coaching team that cares about the young people.”
More than just securing scholarships, Sharpe wants the young athletes to be well-rounded.
“I insist they focus on their schoolwork because there are no track scholarships if you don’t pay attention to the books,” he said. “We bring in resources to educate the kids and the parents because you can’t leave this in the hands of teachers and guidance counsellors. They don’t know anything about the process and I wish we could put on seminars to educate them.”
Sharpe also insists his athletes practice basic good manners.
“Hello, thank you and goodbye seem to be the simple things kids have forgotten,” he said. “After spending nearly three hours with a young person during a training session, one of the volunteer coaches would look around, asking, ‘Where is Billy?’ He leaves without saying goodbye to anyone. We don’t want that. We teach them to be mannered because they would walk by us as if we were part of the building’s infrastructure. That does not work for me.”
The Speed Academy athletes travel to the United States about six times during the indoor season.
“The facilities are much better and more conducive to good performances,” Sharpe said. “There are a lot of oversized 300-metre indoor tracks that allow for that. The young athletes also bond during these trips. While they individually compete on the track, getting them to buy into the team concept is important. They also get an idea of the requirements for an NCAA (National Collegiate Athletics Association) scholarship.”
Unlike other clubs, The Speed Academy doesn’t recruit athletes.
“I think the brand represents itself very well,” said Sharpe. “The only challenge we face is getting them into the program at an early age. I will try to look at kids in Grade 8 and see if some are not involved in the sport and can come on board when they get to Grade 9 because we only coach kids in high school. You can’t tell what kids will be when they are at an elementary age. I don’t say no to anyone because I don’t know what they will be when you are 19. We welcome all and focus on individual performance.”
The Speed Academy enjoyed a phenomenal 2023-24 indoor season with their athletes establishing 119 personal bests which is the most in club history.
In early February, the club’s 27-member team set 16 personal bests at the Spire Scholastic Showcase Meet in Ohio. Two weeks later, 41 athletes clocked 67 personal best times at the Youngstown State High School competition.
Kiara Webb, who lowered her personal best to 55.10 secs., joined The Speed Academy last June.
Though residing in Brampton, she doesn’t mind travelling at least three times weekly to Pickering to train.
“It is worth it because I love the super intense workouts and I feel the program caters to me as a quarter-miler,” said the St. Roc Catholic Secondary School Grade 12 student who carpools with other athletes living in her community. “I enjoy that. Also, the coaches have their personalities, but they work together to create the best environment for their athletes.”
With an enrolment of 57, this is the largest cadre of athletes The Speed Academy has had in a season since it started 18 years ago.
Having seven volunteer coaches makes it easier to help develop the young athletes.
“These are not just nice dads and people that we pull off the sidelines,” said Sharpe who is a volunteer assistant coach at St. Mary Catholic Secondary School in Pickering. “Some were NCAA athletes and national track and field performers and coaches. More importantly, they are great role models. They represent what I want the youths to see. They are well-rounded people with children doing well athletically and academically.”
Two-time Canadian Coach of the Year Anthony McCleary joined the coaching staff in 2019. He has coached several Olympians, including hurdlers Priscilla Lopes Schliep who won a bronze medal in 2008 in Beijing, Phylicia George who was sixth at the 2012 London Games and Nikkita Holder who reached the semi-finals at the same Games.
“It is just a matter of giving back,” McCleary said. “Someone helped me and it is my turn to do the same by paying it forward. I like what the club does in terms of trying to get scholarships and giving the youths a chance to secure a degree. Some have the talent to move on and do great things on the track.”
Having his wife and daughter as coaches mean a lot to the family-oriented Sharpe who migrated from Jamaica at age 11.
He and Colene Taffe Sharpe have been married for 32 years.
Their first date was the inaugural Harry Jerome Awards in 1983 to mark the record performances of Black Canadian athletes at the 1982 Commonwealth Games where Sharpe was a member of the 4×100-relay team that captured a silver medal.
What has sustained the relationship?
“Colene is a fantastic mother who is very committed to our three children,” he said. “I am, but sometimes I have to tell her to give them space and think about herself. She loves coming and training our athletes and going to track events. The fact that we are together doing something that we both love is one of the reasons why this is such a great relationship. I am very lucky.”
Mitchell, the eldest of three siblings, is an art director.
Taylor Sharpe graduated with a master’s degree in Higher Education & Policy Studies – Educational Leadership from the University of Central Florida in 2021 while twin sister Sommer is an associate attorney in Chicago.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law 2022 graduate is the recipient of a 2024 Law360 Distinguished Legal Writing Award for her contributions to the Akerman LLP team presentation, ‘What You Need to Know About Brand Protection in NIL (Name, Image & Likeness) deals’.
While proud of the work he and his coaches are doing to ensure young athletes get scholarships and are well-mannered and rounded, Sharpe provides just one word when asked what his career highlight is. ‘Redemption’.
In early April 1989, Sharpe put on his big boy pants and took ownership for using banned substances while competing on the track.
“We got caught up in that little craziness which was the only way to get results,” he said. “I did it because I was young and didn’t have much support from anyone in terms of family because they didn’t know much about it. I told the truth (to the Dubin Inquiry looking into the use of drugs and banned substances in sports) because that is how I was raised. That cost me a lot. For me to get legal counsel and be reinstated is redemption.”
In 2012, Sharpe’s lifetime ban from federal funding was lifted, opening the door for him to coach at the national and international levels.
“It is funny because I am teaching from a perspective of doing it the wrong way,” the two-time Athletics Canada Development Coach of the Year said. “It is a lot easier because I did it the wrong way and the script flipped where I can give these young people everything possible so they don’t make the mistakes I did.”
The club’s outdoor season, which runs from April to the middle of August, is open to athletes 14 years and older.
Interested individuals can apply through

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