By: Giulia Barile
To spectators in the Fairall Fieldhouse, track and field may seem like the ultimate individual sport. In the case of a storied Windsor Lancers program, however, it could not be more of a team game.
The year was 1995 and the Lancers had just won their fourth consecutive OUA championship under legendary coach Dennis Fairall. Seen as one of best coaches in the history of Canadian university sport, expectations were high once again for Fairall’s squad.
A native of Miramichi, New Brunswick, Colin Inglis was the assistant track and field coach under Fairall from 1995-1999. During that time the Lancers continued their winning ways, racking up more provincial and national titles.
The presence of a dynasty in sports is one of the rarest and most difficult things to achieve, and it cannot be done without a complete team effort.
“Something that Dennis was very good at was that everyone had a role to play within the team,” Inglis spoke about his colleague at the time. “Everyone was just as important as each other. I think that really built the team concept. If somebody faltered, somebody else seemed to pick it up. That’s something I really admired about the program.”
Little did anyone know at the time that Fairall didn’t just mentor a fine future head coach, but he also helped groom the person that would be his successor.
Continued education and certification is key to having success in the coaching world. Inglis models that perfectly, having earned a Bachelor of Science from York University and a Bachelor of Education from the University of Maine. In addition to those credentials, he is also an NCCP level three certified coach in sprints, hurdles, and jumps.
With this education, as well as the experience and knowledge gained during his time at Windsor, Inglis was ready to take on the responsibility of head coach and try to start his own dynasty.
As an athlete, Inglis was a three-time all-Canadian and MVP of the York Lions track and field team between 1987 and 1992. Now starting out as a head coach, the former star athlete returned to his alma mater as head coach and looked to make an immediate impact on the team.
“I tried to take the team experience and team atmosphere that I learned here to York,” Inglis mentioned. “It was something that was severely lacking and needed to be infused.”
It was clear right away that he was the right person for the job as the positive results came almost instantly. Thus began an illustrious 17 year head coaching run with the Lions where Inglis captured multiple podium finishes, including the men’s 2014 CIS championship and bronze medals in 2013 and 2015, as well as a bronze medal for the women’s team in 2015.
To add to his resume, Inglis was a national team coach for Athletics Canada as he was on the coaching staff for the Pan American Junior Championships in 1999, the North American, Central American, and Caribbean (NACAC) Championships in 2000 and 2002, and Francophone Games in 2001.
As Inglis flourished in his head coaching role in Toronto, it was more of the same 369 kilometers down the 401 highway for Fairall and the Lancers. The idea that competing athletes could push one another and cheer each other on was how Fairall created a team united and persistent towards one goal. For 29 years Fairall shaped young athletes into champions, but in 2015 the legend was forced to step back and retire for health reasons at the age of 62.
During his tenure he became the most winningest coach in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) and Ontario University Athletics (OUA) history, earning an incredible 25 CIS Cross Country and Track and Field Championships, and 46 OUA Championships. A cherished member of not only Lancer athletics, but the entire University of Windsor, it was no secret that finding the person to step into his shoes would be no easy task.
And so began the process of trying to find the right person to take over one of the best track and field programs in Canadian university history, a task that athletic director at the University of Windsor, Mike Havey, wanted to ensure was done correctly. The difference in this situation was that the reason for a new hiring was not the case of poor performance, it was the end of an era.
“There is an old saying in the world of sports. Fire quickly and hire slowly,” Havey explained. “This situation was a little atypical. Usually, you hire someone when things haven’t been going as well. This was a little more stressful. There is a history of success here.”
Hiring a successful head coach was an important decision, as the athletic department did not want to disrupt the winning culture that took years to build.
Havey sums it up by saying, “It’s difficult to follow a legend.”
Since Dennis stepped away from the team rather slowly and the athletic department took their time in finding a replacement to ensure they elected the right person for the job, the program started the 2016 season without a permanent head coach.
Brett Lumley was another “disciple of Dennis” and was an assistant coach under Fairall with Inglis starting in 1998. Even though coach Inglis left to take the head coaching job at York, this staff proved to be a tight-knit bunch that continued to keep in touch. Lumley continued to work with the Lancers on and off for ten years and it was no surprise that he was a key figure in securing national titles and creating all-star athletes.
In 2016 Lumley’s role proved to be more important than ever as he was named the interim head coach. A new face in charge of the program for the first time in 30 years. Although it was a good thing that the team still had success with a new coach, it made life more difficult for Havey to permanently fill the position.
When asked if this decision was a simple one to make, Havey smiles. “None of these decisions are easy. There are a lot of factors to weigh and there was a very strong applicant pool.”
While some may think it is the easiest decision to stick with the interim coach who made a positive impact, the Department of Lancer Athletics chose to bring back a familiar face.
On July 12, 2017, the Lancers officially announced that Inglis would be their new head coach of the track and field team. Brett Lumley stayed with the team as an assistant.
“We saw in Colin someone who has the ability to bring groups together,” Havey says of his new coach. “It’s something that Dennis did.”
Although hired rather late in the cycle, Inglis is happy to be back in Windsor and is ready to get things started.
Inglis added, “It’s a very busy year, but I would have it no other way.”
With upcoming renovations set for the athletic facilities, the Athletic Department wanted to have a chance to host as many events as possible before the changes are underway. It is a very exciting season ahead for the blue and gold, as they will be hosting both the OUA (February 24-25, 2018) and U Sports Championships (March 9-11, 2018) at the St. Denis Centre.
“It’s about using the last 17 years of experience I have had as a head coach and employing some things that worked or maybe tweaking the things that didn’t work to bring it back to the program.”
Some may wonder why an established coach, who has already had so much success at York, would want to come to Windsor and start fresh. When it comes to track and field in this community, it all comes back to the family.
“The big thing here is the family. I think it’s the big selling point and how welcome and open people are here, not only within the department but the entire university. People here want to help and want you to feel welcome and a part of that family. This is something that is unique to this institution and department.”
So now the decision has been made, the athletes and coaches are in position, and it is time for the program to show the rest of the province what they are made of.
The track and field season does not officially start until the beginning of January. Now is the time to train and prepare so that everyone can perform at their best this winter. Two-a-day practices, every muscle in the body being sore, and countless ice baths are just a small part of what the athletes will endure this preseason.
Many athletes have graduated from last season and there are many new faces within the team. It may be too soon to make predictions or set expectations, but the veteran members of the team still believe this team is among the best in the province.
Fourth-year sprinter, Stephanie Shaw, knows it is early in the season, but having a young team can be beneficial since there is a raw talent to build off of.
“When one person leaves you sort of step in the next person’s shoes and try to fulfil what they did,” Shaw explains.
One thing that is for sure is that with such a young team, having multiple successful coaches who are knowledgeable in so many areas work together can only have a positive impact on these young athletes, as they can be mentored in every aspect of competition.
Fourth-year long jumper, Destin Gardiner is coached by Lumley most of the time due to his specific event, but knows having a strong dynamic between all of the coaching staff can only benefit the team.
“It doesn’t really matter to me who is in charge, just as long as the coach is dedicated,” Gardiner said after a tough workout.
Gardiner later mentioned that although he rarely has personal interactions with the head coach, he does a good job addressing the team at large and keeping the group together.
Coach Inglis knows that this year is a transition for everyone and it will still take time to put all of the pieces together. However, when you are in charge of a program that has done so well for so long, it is hard to bet against them.
He then elaborated on his prediction by saying, “I think we’re going to be a strong team, we’re going to be competitive. This program has always been able to compete well at home. Ultimately it is trying to get on the podium as a team. That is always a goal for me. And then to strive for another national championship.”
So now we wait. As only time will tell what is in store for this next chapter in Lancer track and field.
Memories of old triumphs will eventually fade. New faces will enter and exit through the years. But if there is one thing that Windsor is sure of, being a part of a greater family no matter the circumstance is what will lead to success.
Sticking with your family is what makes it a family.
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