Mike Kakalow has been coaching at MRA for nine years. and recently saw three of his middle school students -- from left: Carlos Ortiz-Vazquez, Kevin Del Toro and Eric Strong -- dominate a cross-country race.
Sports Give MRA Students a Healthy Outlet
School sporting events don’t always draw lots of crowds or attention, but competition has its own rewards.
That’s the view of Mike Kakalow, a PE teacher at Manchester Regional Academy, which has a modest but valuable sports program.
“Our students get a lot out of this,” said Kakalow, who for the past three years has been director of the Connecticut Alternative Sports Program. Kakalow also has for nine years been the coach of the MRA team, which competes in a league with eight other schools from Meriden, Plainville, New Britain and beyond.
Earlier this month, about 75 students from CASP schools came to MRA for a cross-country meet -- a meet that MRA dominated.
In the middle school race, Manchester’s Eric Strong, Carlos Ortiz-Vazquez and Kevin Del Toro took the top three spots, while MRA's Blaine Shaw took first place in the high school division..
Manchester Regional Academy is tucked away in the southwest corner of town, much closer to the East Hartford and Glastonbury borders than it is to Manchester High, or Illing Middle School, or even Buckland Mall or the Parkade or other spots where lots of young people might gather. And MRA staff are fine with that, as the distance can give a certain peace of mind to students who may have struggled in traditional school settings.
Kakalow said the sports program serves three purposes.
“First, the program brings a sense of community,” he said. “The kids learn to play together even if they are not getting along outside of school. They are loyal, to a fault. They represent our school with pride... and positive behavior.”
He said the program also gives students the incentive to behave appropriately in school. “If a student is not on the appropriate level, they cannot participate,” he said, alluding to an accountability system the school uses to track behavior.
Kakalow said the sports program also is designed to be inclusive regardless of ability level. “It’s not about how good of an athlete you are or are not,” he said. “Anyone and everyone can play despite your skill level. Our goal is to transfer skills learned in the classroom to a competitive activity. Our kids thrive in this environment.”
Students participate in soccer, flag football, volleyball, basketball, badminton, ultimate Frisbee, softball, and track and field, and practice during a seventh period activity block.
They compete against other alternative schools every Friday throughout the entire year. Those other schools are:
Raymond Hill - New Britain
Grace Webb - Hartford
Wheeler Clinic - Plainville
ACES - Hamden
Addlebrook - Cromwell
ACES - North Haven
Venture Academy - Meriden
CREC - East Hartford
“At MRA we try to provide multiple opportunities for students to shine,” Bruce Thorndike, the MRA principal, said, adding that they refer to the sports program as one of these "Arenas for success."
Thorndike added: “We believe that everybody is good at something. We just need to find the right fit. Our sports program, under Mr. Kakalow, is a fine example.”