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Students flip for international victor

3/5/2014

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

Women in Liberal compete against pancake racers from England on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

And the Americans have a 36-28 edge in the competition that dates to the late 1950s.

On Tuesday, youngsters at Holy Family Elementary School in Hays, and their parents and teachers, competed against a pancake racer from India -- and lost.

But the Americans didn't care, because Father Kulandai Gnanasekar now is one of them.

Gnanasekar, a native of India, is associate pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, and the race took place on the school playground outside his office.

Basketball was Gnanasekar's sport of choice in India, but the lean 31-year-old showed he's not to be taken lightly in a leg race, either.

He beat Father Kevin Weber in the religious/clergy division, then sprinted ahead of the other five division winners to win the pacemaker prize, an engraved spatula.

"Thanks for letting me win," Gnanasekar told Weber with a huge smile as they made their way back to their offices after the race.

"Yeah," Weber laughed, slapping his partner on the back. "Way to go. We've never won the whole race before."

The race between the Liberal women and those in Olney, Buckinghamshire, has become highly competitive through the years.

So, too, has the one in Hays.

"Those dads are really competitive; they usually always win," said Teresa Schrant, a fourth-grade teacher at Holy Family who started the race about a third of the way into her 33-year career at the school and runs it annually, featuring the HFE fourth-graders.

Oftentimes, it is one of the dads, or a sprinting fourth-grade boy, who wins the pacemaker.

Not this time.

Gnanasekar took off quickly from the starting line and never trailed, although he did let those nearest him catch up near the end.

And he definitely was a favorite of the students sitting along the sideline. When the young priest was introduced as one of the finalists, the youngsters began chanting, "USA, USA."

"Actually, that should be In-di-a," Weber said with a chuckle as he walked by the line of youngsters.

The students didn't change their allegiance, however, and that was just fine with Gnanasekar.

"In the beginning, it was a culture shock," Gnanasekar said of his July arrival in the U.S. "The wind, I have never experienced anything like that.

"But everyone has been so very kind and very encouraging," said Gnanasekar, who said there is 11.5 hours time differential between him and his family in India. "All the staff members are like a family here, and I love (being involved with) the school children. It's amazing. I feel right at home."

* * *

Winners of the 2014 Shrove Tuesday Pancake Race at Holy Family Elementary School in Hays were as follows:

*  Fourth-grade boys --  Jace Wentling.

*  Fourth-grade girls -- Isabella Speno.

* Teachers/staff -- Fourth-grade teacher Amber Stoecklein.

* Clergy/religious -- Father Kulandai Gnanasekar.

* Ladies -- Heather Seiler.

*  Gents -- Steve Balthazor.

*  Pacemaker -- Father Kulandai Gnanasekar.