Staples’ Ahmad named Gatorade CT boys cross country athlete of the year

Staples High School senior Zakeer Ahmad has been named the 2016-17 Gatorade Connecticut Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year.

The award, which recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but also high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character demonstrated on and off the racecourse, distinguishes Ahmad as Connecticut’s best high school boys cross country runner.

Ahmad is the second Gatorade Connecticut Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year to be chosen from Staples, joining former Wrecker Henry Wynne, who is now a senior at the University of Virginia.

Ahmad is now a finalist for the prestigious Gatorade National Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year award to be announced in February.

Ahmad won three championships in the fall, taking first place at the FCIAC, CIAC Class LL and State Open meets. Running 5,000 meters in each race, he won the FCIAC title in 15:49, the Class LL title in 15:49, and the State Open in 15:46. Staples won the team championship at all three meets.

Ahmad also placed third at the New England Cross Country Championships and sixth at the Nike Cross Nationals Northeast Regional championships.

He has volunteered locally on behalf of youth track programs and charity road races.

“Zakeer is one of the best who has ever run for Staples High,” Staples head coach Laddie Lawrence said. “He’s a knowledgeable, dedicated and determined competitor who has a true love for the sport.”

Ahmad has maintained a 3.66 GPA in the classroom. He will attend the University of Pennsylvania this fall, where he will compete in cross country and track and field.

The Gatorade Player of the Year program annually recognizes one winner in the District of Columbia and each of the 50 states that sanction high school football, girls volleyball, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, baseball, softball, and boys and girls track & field, and awards one National Player of the Year in each sport.

The selection process is administered by the Gatorade Player of the Year Selection Committee, which work with top sport-specific experts and a media advisory board of accomplished, veteran prep sports journalists to determine the state winners in each sport.

Ahmad joins Gatorade Connecticut Boys Cross Country Runners of the Year Eric van der Els (2015-16, Brien McMahon), Alex Ostberg (2014-15 and 2013-14, Darien), Wynne (2012-13, Staples), Connor Rog (2011-12 and 2010- 11, Fairfield Prep), John Raneri (2009-10 and 2008-09, New Fairfield), and Donn Cabral (2007-08, Glastonbury) as athletes who have won the cross country award since its inception in 2007.

As a Gatorade Player of the Year, Ahmad will be able to select a national or local youth sports organization to receive a grant as part of the Gatorade Play It Forward program. Every Gatorade Player of the Year state winner receives a $1,000 grant to donate and will have the opportunity to enter for an additional $10,000 spotlight grant by writing a brief essay explaining why their selected organization deserves additional support.

Twelve spotlight grants – one for each sport – will be announced throughout the year.

For more on the Gatorade Player of the Year program, including nomination information, a complete list of past winners and the announcement of the Gatorade National Player of the Year, visit www.gatorade.com/poy.

Zakeer Ahmad of Staples leads the way during the early portion of the FCIAC boys 5,000-meter race. — Dave Stewart/HAN Network photo