By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
WHENEVER sports resumes after the passing of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mike Sands said sports leaders will have to be revolutionary in their approach to getting the community to come out and participate again.
Sands, who has spent the past 50 years in track and field as an athlete and executive, said it’s going to take some time to get back to the level of normalcy and co-mingling as is the order of the day in sports.
“Sports will not be sports again if we can’t defeat this virus,” said Sands of the worldwide pandemic that has literally shut down every major international competition in every sport.
“What is normal. Being able to sit in the stands together, being able to compete together and move together. Without that, sports won’t be what it used to be. But the one good thing that this will teach us is to be more cautious and become more hygienic in our daily lives, which is not a bad thing.”
At the end of the day, Sands said it would be very difficult for athletes to be competing in sports with masks on their faces, as the public has been advised to do so now to help curb the spread of the disease that has affected millions and killed thousands of persons around the world.
“There has to be hope and prayer that we find a cure and or a solution or vaccine so that sports can take its right place in the community that it was designed for with the spectators,” he said.
Sands is no stranger to sports. His infancy stages began at Bahamas Academy where he had to run around the school before they didn’t have any sporting facilities on the campus.
Under the supervision of coach now turned pastor Huge Roach, Sands moved to Fort Charlotte where he competed in track meets. He recalled how his mother made his first running shorts out of the flour bag.
In 1969, he was sent to New York where he went on to excel as a two-sport athlete in soccer and track and field at Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn. As he would put it, soccer was his first love.
“In the United States, they had a real season. Soccer was a fall programme,” said Sands, who at the time served as the captain of their team. “The coach told the track coach that he had a boy who could run really fast.
“He came looking for me and asked me to try out for the team. I went out to the tryouts and I made the team right then and there. I played soccer first and then as the season progressed, I ran track.”
After completing high school, Sands earned an athletic scholarship to attend Penn State University where he went on to become an instant star.
While attending Penn State, at the age of 19, Sands was selected to represent the Bahamas in the first of his two Olympic Games appearances in 1972 where he made the quarter-finals in the men’s 100 metres, the heats of the 200m and as a member of the men’s 4 x 100m relay team.
Sands, who had taken up the mantle from Tommy Robinson, also who won multiple medals at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in the 1960s, competed in NCAA events with the Nittany Lions at Penn State.
He captured All-American honours as a finalist in the 4x440-yard relay at the 1973 NCAA Outdoor Championships in 1974 and he was a 100-yard dash and 220-yard dash semi-finalist at the NCAA Outdoors.
He won the 440-yard at the 1975 NCAA Indoor Championships with a time of 48.5 seconds. His fastest performance came at the 1975 NCAA Outdoor Championships - there he ran 45.46 in the semi-finals (a new stadium record) but was over a second slower in the final, ending the competition in fifth place.
His 1975 season was his best athletically as he ran a personal best of 10.1 for the 100m and ran 45.20 for the 440-yd dash, which served as the national record for 21 years.
Sands also became the first person of his nation to win a gold medal at the Central American and Caribbean Championships in Athletics when he took the 400m title at the 1975 event.
He also claimed a bronze medal in the 200m at the 1975 Pan American Games and placed fourth in the 400m race.
Sands’ second Olympic appearance followed at the 1976 Montreal Olympics and he again served as the nation’s flag bearer. He was picked for the 100m and 400m disciplines and was a quarter-finalist over the longer distance.
Sands retired from active competition in 1981.
“Not knowing it at the time, but winning the CAC 100m in 1975 in Ponce, was one of the highlights of my career as an athlete,” Sands said.
“Winning the first NCAA Indoor Championship title, was the first for Penn State, was another historic moment for me.
“But I think representing your country at the Olympic Games was equally important. Other than serving your God, representing your country at the Olympics, especially when you become the flag bearer and I carried the flag on my two appearances at the games.”
For his efforts, Sands was inducted into Sheepshead Bay High School and Penn State’s Wall of Fame and three years ago, he was included in the Bahamas’ National Hall of Fame.
Looking back at his career, Sands said there were many things that he would have liked to have changed, but without going into any details, he said he prefers to wait until he mentions it in his book that would be entitled: “The Last Lap - My Journey.”
The book, according to Sands, will outline his pitfalls that has helped to make him a much better person, through the assistance he got from persons like Alpheus ‘Hawk’ Finlayson and the late Dr Bernard Nottage.
While he was still competing when he was living in Atlanta and working at Bahamasair, Sands said Finlayson encouraged him to become the athletes’ representative and that turned out to be his introduction to the administration of the sport.
Following his retirement, Sands became the public relations officer for the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations (BAAA), vice president of the Bahamas Olympic Committee, vice president of the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Confederation and president of the BAAA in 2009.
He was re-elected to the latter post in 2013, but experienced some internal problems that led to the executive board casting a vote of no confidence in him. He was suspended and then later reinstated.
“With all this down time due to the coronavirus, it just hit me that I would have been involved in track and field for 51 years this year,” Sands said.
“It’s been a long journey, one that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
“As long as I am capable, mentally and physically, to make a meaningful contribution and persons can appreciate that I can make those contributions, then I will continue.
“I don’t have a map to say this is what my next journey would be.”
Becoming the new president of NACAC was not one in his cards, but as his journey continued, Sands said he answered the call to serve and he’s appreciative of his collegiates who encouraged him to take up the mantle.
“My mother always told me that water will find its way. So what that means is what is for me is for me,” he stated.
“I will just serve for as long as I can as best as I can both physically and mentally.”
Sands, a husband and proud father of five children and six grandchildren, said he’s not employed as his contractual role as a consultant at the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture expired in September.
He was seconded there in 2013 to oversee the inaugural World Relays at the Thomas A Robinson National Stadium.
As the NACAC president, Sands noted that it’s not a paid position, but it’s one that he can use to help to continue to make his contribution to the growth and development of the sport, not just in the country, but in the region.
His new role also allows him to sit as an executive member on the board of World Athletics, the governing body for track and field around the world, where he hopes to make an impact just as he did as an athlete.