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Haitian immigrant Pierre quickly assimilates on the track for CASH

Posted by Justin Rice  May 24, 2012 11:08 AM

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Barry Chin / Globe Staff

Andy Pierre, who immigrated to Dorchester five months before a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked his native Haiti, will compete in the MIAA Division 4 track meet for the fist time on Saturday.

Shortly after moving to Dorchester from Haiti in 2009, Andy Pierre was summoned by an administrator at his new high school, the Community Academy of Science and Health. Pierre didn’t realize that the administrator, Joel Connor, was also the track and field coach at the Dorchester school known as CASH.

“I didn’t even know track when I was in Haiti,” Pierre recalled, “the first time [Connor] called me he was like ‘Andy I need you after school.’ I was like ‘Why, did I do something?’”

Connor thought the 6-foot-2-inch, 150-pounder had potential on the track, even though his only athletic experience was in soccer.

“He looked like a marathon runner," Connor said. "He had the body of a marathon runner; quite frankly he could run for days.”

The 18-year-old — who is listed as a junior but will likely graduate this spring — will compete in the Division 4 Outdoor Track & Field Championship for the first time on Saturday at North Reading High. Pierre finished fourth in the 600 meters in the Division 4 indoor meet this winter before finishing 13th at All-States.

He will be the No. 9 seed in the 400-meter run Saturday with a qualifying time of 52.40 seconds.

“I’m so excited, I can’t wait,” Pierre recalled after winning the 400-meter run in the Boston City Track & Field Championships on May 15 with a time of 52.70. He also won the city title in high jump with a leap of 5 feet 8 inches.

“The first time I went to states I was so scared.”

Pierre’s transition to the track was nothing compared to his transition to the United States.

When Pierre was 6, his mother, Herodia Auguste, moved from Haiti to Boston in search of work. Eight-years later, she finally earned enough money at her job in the food services department at Boston College to send for her 10 children to join her in the states.

“That was a dream,” Pierre said of being reunited with his mother. “I didn’t even recognize her when I got here. We started again; lots of things changed about her.

“She always put in my head that everything is going to be OK.”

Their reunion was five months before a 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti in January 2010.

Pierre said he lost several family members and friends.

“I was lucky,” he said. “I could be one of them. I always thank God for that.”

Adding to his distress was the fact that Pierre and his older brother, Clifford, spoke little to no English when they first enrolled in school at CASH in September 2009. Clifford also ran indoor track for Connor that first winter and served as his brother’s security blanket during the 2-mile and mile races.

“They didn’t speak a lot of English, so they would run with each other,” Connor said. “His brother wasn’t that good but [Pierre] would always run in races with his brother. I tried to convince him ‘Leave your brother,’ but they would come across the finish line together. I would have to tell him ‘Leave him, you’re better.’”

One day Clifford couldn’t attend a meet because he had a job interview at Boston College.

“So Andy had to run by himself,” Connor said. “He basically took two to three minutes off his time. I told him ‘See how fast you’re running, see what your potential is.’ That was the turning point of his getting it into his head that he could be better.”

Pierre’s progression skyrocketed quickly, but he always played second fiddle in the distance races to Latin Academy’s Robert “Sonny” Finch, who has won the mile at the city championships three straight years.

Impressed by Pierre’s split times of 49 and 50 seconds during his mile runs, Connor decided to switch Pierre to middle distance races before this indoor season.

“Sonny was in his head that he couldn’t beat him,” Connor said. “I said ‘Let me switch him, I knew he’s been working on speed. Sonny won. It was, let him have [the mile], let’s try something new.”

Pierre didn’t protest.

“We felt like I can run faster in shorter races,” Pierre said. “I was like 'All right, whatever you see.' I was willing to do it so I think he was right to say that. … I felt comfortable the first time. I feel comfortable with it.”

And Finch, who had befriended Pierre, didn’t mind that Pierre wouldn’t be around to push him in the mile anymore.

“He was always chasing me, then one day he came to me and said I can’t beat you, he always beat me in the 800 though,” Finch said. “I’m sure he likes being in first a little bit better. Plus we’re buddies. We always congratulate each other. … It was kind of comical to see us in the same race. It was a race of opposites. We run the same speed but look completely different. He’s tall and got that Mohawk and I’m so much shorter than him.”

Considering everything Pierre’s been through, Connor said he’s most proud of how Pierre has handled himself in school. In fact, Connor said that Pierre, who is almost 19, will graduate this year even though it’s his third year of high school at CASH.

Connor said like many Haitian immigrants, Pierre didn’t have paperwork when he arrived at the school so they placed him in freshman classes. Once they received paperwork that proved he completed his freshman year in Haiti, Pierre was put on a track to graduate this year, Connor said.

Pierre was able to catch up on credits through CASH’s dual-enrollment program with Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology as well as the district’s credit recovery program. Connor said Pierre will graduate this spring if he passes the US history and English courses he’s taking through the credit recovery program.

Connor also said the likes of Connecticut College and Roxbury Community College are interested in having Pierre run for them. Connor said the problem is that those schools think he's a junior, so they are working on finding a college where he could walk on to the track team in the fall.

"Maybe not a scholarship but [ a school that would allow him to] walk on saying 'this kid has potential,'" Connor said. “His potential really hasn’t been tapped at all. We practice in the school. We don’t have time to go to White Stadium or the Reggie Lewis Center in the winter so all his practices are in the hallways and he doesn’t have competition to run against.

Track also played a huge role in Pierre’s assimilation to the school and this country, Connor said.

“He’s like a superstar in school and everyone here knows who he is,” Connor said. “That forced him to acclimate to the culture.”

Pierre said he feels fully assimilated and doesn’t miss Haiti at all.

“I feel comfortable here,” he said. “I have things I didn’t have there. Track is one thing I didn’t have when I was in Haiti.”

Justin A. Rice covers Boston Public school athletics. He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.

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Several reporters, editors and correspondents contribute updates, news and features to the BPS Sports Blog:
  • Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
  • Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at butler.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.
Also expect updates from Boston.com High School sports editor Zuri Berry and the Globe staff.