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Cross Country

Thanksgiving Turkey Trot races benefit Hauppauge-based nonprofit Christmas Magic

By Bill Landon

Thanks to Mount Sinai community members displaced children are once again getting what’s on their Christmas lists this year.

The school district’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club members teamed up with Strong Island Running Club and more than 36 local businesses and families for the 7th annual Mount Sinai Turkey Trot 5K and Fun Run to benefit Hauppauge-based nonprofit Christmas Magic.

According to running club founder John McHugh, the organization receives letters from children who write to Santa from area homeless shelters.

“Many were originally displaced back in 2008 as a result of the housing market crash,” McHugh said. “We get those letters, and with the proceeds of today’s race, we’ll go shopping next week and buy presents for the kids and host a dinner for them and their families.”

The races brought out more than 350 entrants, and Mount Sinai student-athletes swept the top five 5K spots. First across the finish line was Mount Sinai junior Sean Higgins, who is a member of the school’s varsity track and field and cross country teams. He clocked in at a personal best 17 minutes, 26:31.

“I practice at 7 a.m. every day,” the 17-year-old said. “I run for a living.”

Second across the finish line was teammate Ryan Wilson, who tripped the timer at 17:55.88. Mount Sinai runner Jackson Law finished in third with a time of 18:23.38, and was followed by his twin brother Christian who covered the distance in 18:24.97.

The first female finisher was Mount Sinai senior Noreen Guilfoyle, who finished in 18:35. It was her third consecutive first-place finish among females in the event.

“It’s a beautiful morning,” she said.

The event had the best turnout of any year so far, with event proceeds totaling just over $7,500, according to McHugh. After dinner, which will be held at Mount Sinai High School Dec. 6 at 5 p.m., there will be a visit from Santa where the kids will receive their gifts and sing Christmas carols.

“These people all have hearts of gold,” McHugh said. “It is our privilege to help make the holidays special for those children and families in need across Long Island.”

For more information about the collaboration, visit www.strongislandrunningclub.com or call 631-806-4649.

Port Jefferson's Aileen Schretzmayer moves through the middle of the pack during the St. Anthony's Invitational Oct. 6 at Sunken Meadow Sate Park. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

With Port Jefferson cross country runner Aileen Schretzmayer nagged by injury and Shoreham-Wading River superstar Katherine Lee out on a college visit, both teams struggled to perform up to par during the St. Anthony’s Invitational Oct. 6.

Since Lee, who ran the Sunken Meadow State Park course in 18 minutes, 10 seconds, currently the fastest girl in Suffolk County according to her coach, was visiting Stanford University to narrow down her college choices for next fall, junior Alexandra Smith was first across the 5K finish line for the Wildcats.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Alexandra Smith powers past opponents. Photo by Bill Landon

Out of 300 runners, Smith placed 11th with a time of 20:38.50 behind first-place finisher Maggie Maier, a sophomore from Sacred Heart who finished in 19:39.

“I was first [for my team] because Katherine wasn’t here, but it was my personal best,” Smith said. “The toughest part of the course for me was the down hills, but I’m pretty good at running up.”

Lee currently sits atop the Class B leader board and is ranked No. 8 in the nation and No. 2 out of all seniors, according to Shoreham Wading-River head coach Paul Koretzki.

The coach was pleased with his team’s eighth-place overall finish, especially given the outcome for a handful of his runners.

“The first five ran their fastest times today,” he said. “The only Class B team that beat us was Kings Park, by a couple of points, and with Katherine we would’ve been right up there, maybe even moved to third.”

Port Jefferson’s Schretzmayer was first to cross the finish line for the Royals in 24:51.14 placing 161st.

“It’s not her personal best,” Port Jefferson head coach Donald Slingerland said. “She’s been injured, so we’re trying to bring her back slowly.”

Second across the line for the Royals was junior Amanda Brosnan, who covered the distance in 28:23 for 250th.

Port Jefferson’s Amanda Brosnan sprints toward the finish line. Photo by Bill Landon

Slingerland warned his girls to drink plenty of fluids during the warm day, and to slow down when they thought they needed to, especially on what Brosnan said is tough course.

“It was a really big race,” Brosnan said. “There’s a lot of people running today and people came to this race from Connecticut. Cardiac Hill — it’s like a quarter of a mile long, it’s steep and it’s dirt and it’s right in the middle of the course, [so when you get to it], you’re already pretty winded.”

Shoreham-Wading River sophomore Nicole Garcia, who clocked in at 21:55.50 for 38th, also spoke to the course’s demands.

“Cardiac Hill was definitely the hardest [part],” Garcia said. “It’s a very steep hill and you think it’s never going to end; it’s very difficult.”

Smithtown’s Catherine Farrell placed second, Gabrielle Schneider placed 6th and Emily Ginty wasn’t far behind in 12th. The trio gave the Bulls enough points to finish 4th in the team standings. Kings Park’s Bridget Roell placed 15th while the Kingsmen came in 6th overall.

In the 1.5-mile run, Ward Melville’s Briana Grant was the top-place finisher and teammate Julia Stafford crossed just inside the Top 10 with a 9th-place time to help the Patriots take first in the team standings. Kings Park’s Tanner Richter rounded out the Top 10.


                

Longtime Shoreham-Wading River High School cross country and track and field coaches Bob Syzmanski and Paul Koretzki were named state coaches of the year. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

Bob Szymanski and Paul Koretzki are used to winning together. With a combined 72 years and more than 100 seasons as cross-country, winter track and spring track and field coaches at Shoreham-Wading River High School, the dynamic duo has steered four decades of Wildcats toward victories and scholarships, and put the district on the map with a consistent winning record.

It’s no surprise the two veteran coaches — Szymanski, 70, the boys cross-country coach and Koretzki, 77, the girls cross-country coach — were recently recognized as coaches of the year by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. While they take different approaches to the job, with Koretzki as a hard-nosed, numbers-based wiz and Szymanski cracking jokes and belting out Bobby Darin songs during practice, the pair work best together.

Bob Syzmanski. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

“I like to call them Abbott and Costello,” said Mark Passamonte, the school’s athletic director, during the district’s Sept. 12 board of education meeting. The coaches were recognized by board members for their accolade, which measured their number of years coaching, career records and status as positive role models within the school and community. They are now eligible for national coach of the year awards.

“I’ve worked with both of these gentlemen for the last four years and they are outstanding,” Passamonte said. “They bring such wisdom and great humor to the cross-country program.”

Koretzki and Szymanski joined forces this past winter and spring as head coach and assistant coach, respectively, and, as a result, the girls 4×1-mile relay team took home the national title for both seasons. The boys fall team, so far, under Szymanski’s leadership, boasts a 5-0 record, triumphant against Sayville and Mount Sinai at recent meets.

Koretzki started coaching girls cross-country at the school in 1980 and suggested to the district it hire Szymanski, who had coached in the Center Moriches and Amityville schools, a year later when a job opened for the boys team. The two have not had a single argument since they met in the 1970s.

“The only thing I have against Bobby is he beat me in a race once in 1976,” Koretzki joked at the podium before thanking the board. “It’s a very nice honor and not the kind of thing we expected.”

During an interview, Szymanski said of his career alongside Koretzki, “We’re meant to do this job together for some reason. We work so well, he and I. He can cover me and I can cover for him. Paul is one of the most organized guys, he’s tremendous.”

“If you make practice tougher than meets, then they’re not afraid when it comes to competing.”

— Bob Syzmanski

In terms of their coaching strategies, the pair said not much has changed over the years.

Szymanski, who broke running records in high school and was cross-country captain at what is now Emporia State University in Kansas, pointed to techniques he learned from his own coaches, including middle-distance legend John Camien, as his foundation. Among his go-to workouts is one that “breaks the pain barrier.”

“Running is 50 percent physical and 50 percent mental,” he said. “When you run, and you feel discomfort, that’s when some people quit. You have to make the kids break that pain barrier in practice. If you make practice tougher than meets, then they’re not afraid when it comes to
competing at meets.”

He speaks highly of his runners, and said the best members on the team are often those who join merely to get in shape for other sports like lacrosse and football. Many of them end up with college scholarships, such as Bobby Andrews, a baseball player who joined the team in his freshman year in 2006 and was captain by senior year. He got a full ride to North Carolina State University, for which he has Szymanski to thank.

Paul Koretzki. File photo

“Without him, I never would have ran,” Andrews said. “He’s a great motivator. There’s something about him that just makes you want to perform your best. I had a great group of teammates around and we all felt the same way about him.”

Andrews and his teammates were also one of many packs of high schoolers over the years who have been introduced to the sounds of Bobby Darin through the coach, who considers himself a lifelong fanatic of the “Beyond the Sea” singer.

“In my lifetime, I must’ve given away over 50 Bobby Darin CD’s as I buy them as gifts for people,” Szymanski said with glee. He saw Darin in concert numerous times, has his fair share of signed albums and was even featured in a Biography Channel special on the singer. “When I’m in my car, going to school or a meet, I’m listening to Darin.”

Spending most of his career teaching math, in the Brentwood school district and at Suffolk County Community College, Koretzki didn’t start running until he was 33, encouraged by a friend of his who ran in a marathon.

“What I love most about the job are the kids,” Koretzki said. “Especially the ones who really dedicate themselves and see great improvement. Just seeing their faces or when they give a thumbs up after a race, that’s really nice.”

“What I love most about the job are the kids. Especially the ones who dedicate themselves.”

— Paul Koretzki

As a coach, he said he’s been running the same drills for 38 years. He’s been described as “very direct” and not one to sugarcoat a bad performance, as a way to help his runners better themselves. Alexandra Hays, an All-American who was among the national champions this past winter and spring, and currently runs at Columbia University, said she was able to achieve so much because of his tutelage.

She said her coach “pushed us to strive to exceed his expectations,” recalling a particular interaction after the team won the 4×1-mile in the nationals.

“He came up to me and told me how proud he was of us and he knew we would be able to pull off what we had because of how hard we’d worked in our practices,” said Hays, considering it his most meaningful post-race talk because it was her last. “He doesn’t give meaningless compliments or false reassurance, so to hear this after five years running for him was the best way to end my high school career.”

While Szymanski said he would like to retire after 50 years as a public high school coach, with 48 under his belt at this point, Koretzki doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.

“I have nothing else to do,” Koretzki said with a laugh. “I’m not interested in soap operas so I might as well keep going.”

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Sam Walker. File photo by Bill Landon

By Charles Hamma

The Pierson-Bridgehampton team could do nothing but watch the Port Jefferson Royals run away with another cross-country victory Oct. 3 at Sunken Meadow State Park, winning 48-15 to bring the Royals’ record to a perfect 5-0 on the season.

Sam Walkerfinished first for Port Jefferson out of five top-finishing Royals at Sunken Meadow State Park Oct. 3. File photo by Bill Landon

Port Jefferson dominated this 2.8-mile run from start to finish, placing five Royals in the Top 5. As runners from both the Whalers and the Monarchs huffed and puffed, the Royals zoomed by, leaving kicked-up dust and the competition behind them. Senior captain and first-place finisher Sam Walker led the way, finishing with a time of 16 minutes, 12 seconds. Port Jefferson was eager to come out and set the same convincing tone that they’ve been setting throughout this cross-country season.

“Pierson and McGann gave it their all, but we just have a great thing going right now,” Walker said after the race. “Everyone’s staying positive and we’re all working together as a team. There isn’t one person who sticks out more than the other. We’re all doing great.”

While Walker finished first, it was a photo finish, with teammates stepping across the finish line right behind him. Cooper Schoch came in second in 16:13 and Grant Samara was right behind him, finishing in 16:14.

Port Jefferson head coach Rod Cawley was especially impressed with his team’s powerful performance.

“I can’t ask for anything more as a coach than a performance like the one I saw today,” he said grinning from ear to ear. “Hopefully this momentum will carry over into this weekend when we go to Disney World.”

The Royals are leaving to go to Disney World this weekend, but they are not going there to celebrate a recent Super Bowl victory with Mickey and Minnie. Instead, they will be traveling to compete in the Disney Cross Country Classic. Now in its 21st year, the competition brings together schools of all kinds, from middle schools up to colleges, to compete on the 5K and 8K courses at Disney’s 220-acre Wide World of Sports Complex. The races will take place Oct. 6 and 7. The top three schools and individuals will earn trophies, and those who place fourth through tenth will earn medals.

“I can’t ask for anything more as a coach than a performance like the one I saw today.”

— Rod Cawley

Port Jefferson will travel home for one final regular-season meet against the Shelter Island Indians Oct. 10. It’s a matchup to which Walker is looking forward.

“I think that this will be a great test for us to finish out the regular season,” he said. “They have a really good team, we have a really good team, so it should be interesting.”

After that, the road to the state qualifiers begins, with expectations sure to be high.

But for now, the Royals will celebrate this victory, possibly with a ride on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.

This version updates the length of the course and the spelling of Parker Schoch’s name.

Cody Carey, on right, is biking cross-country with fraternity Pi Kappa Phi to spend time with people of all ages dealing with disabilities through dinners, dances, kickball games and more. Photo from Cody Carey

By Kevin Redding

Cody Carey wanted to do something a little more adventurous this summer than work double shifts at a local restaurant. So the Miller Place-bred junior accounting major at Ohio State University decided to strap on a helmet, hop on a blue Giant Defy road bike and push himself further than he ever thought possible.

Joined by 29 other members of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity from all over the country, Carey, 21, is currently on a 67-day, 4,000-mile bike ride from Seattle, Washington, ending Aug. 12 in Washington, D.C., with scheduled stops along the way to spend time with people of all ages dealing with disabilities through dinners, dances and games.

Cody Carey meets disabled people on his cross-country Journey of Hope. Photo from Cody Carey

The Journey of Hope is an annual fundraising bike excursion hosted by the fraternity’s national philanthropy, The Ability Experience, since 1987 that raises funds and awareness for people with physical and mental disabilities — ranging quadriplegia to Down syndrome to autism.

“It’s incredible to see, especially with everything in the news about students today and this next generation,” The Ability Experience Chief Executive Officer Basil Lyberg said. “It’s very encouraging to understand the power that young people have to impact their communities and that they’re not just talking the talk, they’re out walking it. And in our case, riding across the country.”

Split among three teams of cyclists, each team takes on a different route that ultimately converges in D.C. Individual riders are required to raise $5,500 to contribute to an overall goal of $650,000, and Carey, the only Ohio State student on the ride this year, has already raised $5,799 through an online campaign.

He said members of the fraternity, which spans colleges and universities across the country, are encouraged to participate in the ambitious experience and he knew it was something he would regret not doing.

“I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone and do something that’s essentially life-changing and that I’ll never forget,” Carey said. “This experience has definitely made helping people even more of a strong value of mine. Everybody should help anybody they can on a daily basis.”

Cody Carey finds some time to sightsee on his trek. Photo from Cody Carey

Since embarking June 6 on the Journey of Hope’s TransAmerica route, Carey and his fellow cyclists have pedaled through seven states, including Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, hitting the road each day at 6 a.m. and wrapping up in the early afternoon. The riders generally sleep on gym floors and YMCA’s within the towns they visit, and travel an average of 75 miles per day. During a 12-hour bike rides, the athletes aren’t allowed to listen to music for safety reasons. Carey laughed about the long rides, and admitted there are parts of home he misses.

“How much I miss my bed,” he said. “There’s lot of chatting with the others, lots of silence, and lots of wind.”

He has ridden through sprawling peaks and snow-capped mountains in Montana, crossed over valleys in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, past cornfields in Kansas and said he has loved “taking in the big, beautiful country on two wheels.”

But for Carey, nothing compares to the experience of meeting locals from each state during the ride’s friendship visits. After a morning of pedaling, cyclists visit local groups supporting people with disabilities and take part in a long list of activities, from drawing with kids to playing wheelchair basketball and kickball to having lengthy conversations with teens and adults who face challenges every day.

“It’s been extremely heartwarming,” he said of the visits. “Many of the organizations say it’s like Christmas when we come by. We just make sure the adults and kids are having a great time. You don’t realize everything you have until realizing it can be taken away like with the people we’ve met that have suffered injuries, and with those who are disabled their whole life.”

Referring to the impact it has had on his fellow cyclists, he said, “I’ve never seen a group of guys cry as much as I do now.”

He recalled a special moment in Casper, Wyoming, when a man who recently suffered a brain tumor relayed a resonating message.

Cody Carey meets disabled people on his cross-country Journey of Hope. Photo from Cody Carey

“We were all about to get up and go play some games over in a park when he stood up and sat us all back down to tell us not to stress over the little things in life,” Carey said. “Because, he said, you can wake up one day and have something like what he experienced happen to you and your whole life could change. He told us to enjoy every second we have as we are, which was really touching coming from a guy now considered disabled. It kind of just pointed out all the stupid things we stress about in our regular lives.”

Preparation for the journey consisted of getting on a bike just a week and a half before heading to Seattle, Carey admitted, but being an athlete during his days in Miller Place provided him with much-needed mental stamina. He played soccer, which he competed in at a national level, and lacrosse, too.

“I’m so excited for him, he’s always been in terrific shape and he probably has thighs the size of tree trunks now,”Carey’s mother Elizabeth Hine joked. “I’m proud as heck of him. Between seeing the country and all the people, he says this is the best summer he’s ever had.”

Just two days into the cross-country ride, Carey said the group logged 125 miles over 24 hours while passing through Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state.

“Everyone on that route, except one person who suffered hypothermia, finished, and at the end of it we all looked at each other and said, ‘That’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done in our lives,’” Carey said. “We all say that our bike is our disability and we have to overcome it each day.”

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Vanessa Rodriguez races across the St. Anthony's Invitational 5K-course at Sunken Meadow State Park. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Karina Allen will be racing her way to the state qualifiers.

The Comsewogue sophomore hit the road with her team for the St. Anthony’s Invitational at Sunken Meadow State Park Sept. 30, and despite the constant drizzle and 35 mph gusts of wind that would make it hard for any athlete, the Warriors’ cross country standout finished the 5K event just 14 seconds shy of her personal best.

Karina Allen, who finished the St. Anthony's Invitational 5K race in 13th place out of 190 runners, will be competing in the state qualifier this November. Photo by Bill Landon
Karina Allen, who finished the St. Anthony’s Invitational 5K race in 13th place out of 190 runners, will compete in the state qualifier this November. Photo by Bill Landon

Scores of runners answered the gun in a mass start for the 5K-event on the Cardiac Hill course, facing unrelenting wind as the rain came down sideways, making for slippery conditions. Allen crossed the finish line in 21 minutes, 11.46 , which placed her 13th out of 190 runners.

“Just going up Cardiac [Hill] — that’s just really the worst part, but going down Snake is easier — you just have to let yourself go,” Allen said. “I struggled at the bottom of Cardiac, and going up I was just sore in my legs and in my forearms, but going down the rest of the hill I was ok.”

Comsewogue head coach Charlotte Johnson said Allen has tremendous potential, and will set the tone for the team for the remainder of the season.

“Today was Karina’s personal best on this course, and she has already run under the time required for entry into the state qualification meet,” Johnson said. Allen will be competing at the qualifier for the first time this November.

Second across the line for the Warriors was classmate Mya Darsan, who placed 95th with a time of 24:38.14. Darsan said despite the wind and rain, she liked the conditions.

“It’s a bit windy; it’s a bit cold, but it feels nice when you’re running because it’s not as hot,” she said. “The wind does hold you up, but when it’s at your back, it gives you a nice push.”

Darsan did agree that the hardest part of the course was Cardiac Hill.

At the St. Anthony's Invitational, first-year varsity runner Mya Darsan reached a new personal record with her 95th-place finish. Photo by Bill Landon
At the St. Anthony’s Invitational, first-year varsity runner Mya Darsan reached a new personal record with her 95th-place finish. Photo by Bill Landon

“It’s very difficult; it’s a mountain,” she said. “It’s not straight up — when you think you’re done, there’s another one [to climb]. It’s steep and dirt is coming from everywhere; it’s painful.”

Third across the line for Comsewogue was senior Vanessa Rodriguez-Reyes, who finished 107th in 25:14.43. The time was 18 seconds shy of her personal best.

“At the start, we were running into the wind and that made it hard, so you have to push yourself a lot,” Rodriguez-Reyes said. “But then coming back it was better.”

She also said Cardiac Hill is steep, adding that sometimes runners don’t have enough energy to run up, so they walk.

Johnson said her team’s challenge will be to keep everyone healthy, as the Warriors build toward the division meet.

“The team’s strength is three-fold — the girls who run in the middle of our pack; our leading runner, Karina Allen; and our group of outstanding freshman, including several who have run well this year over the 1.47-mile and 5K courses,” she said. “We have a young team showing great promise for the future.”

Smithtown backs off proposal to split cross-country team

Samantha Catalano, a junior runner, speaks to the board on March 8. Photo by Alex Petroski

Smithtown Schools Superintendent James Grossane announced at a board of education meeting Tuesday that he and Athletic Director Patrick Smith, upon the request of the board, would remove the proposal from Smith’s athletic budget that would split the unified East and West cross-country team. Grossane said that the team would remain together for the 2016-17 school year, and the idea of splitting would be revisited during budget season next year.

The idea to split the team, which is one of four sports in the district that has athletes from both high schools on one team, was presented by Smith as a means for more student athletes to play a key role, which would in turn get them more opportunities to earn college scholarships.

“It’s based on the philosophy of the district,” Smith said in an interview last week. “We wanted to provide more opportunities for our kids.”

Sophomore runner Matthew Tullo, who has filled the role of spokesperson for the effort to keep the team together, addressed the board again Tuesday.

“As you can tell, it really means a lot to all of us,” Tullo said, referencing the numerous boys and girls cross-country participants, who have been well represented at board of education meetings for the last month. “It’s really amazing, and I really appreciate everyone involved deciding to keep us together. On behalf of the Smithtown cross-country team, I’d like to say thank you for listening to us for the four weeks. I know we were kind of annoying. I’d like to say thank you for keeping our team—actually, keeping our family — together. It really means a lot.”

School Board President Christopher Alcure responded to Tullo’s comments.

“The board listened across the last four or so weeks,” Alcure said. The board asked Grossane and Smith to reconsider the split following a budget workshop on March 15.

“From the board I will say this: you made us very proud,” Alcure added. “You were very articulate, very respectful. We’re very proud of what the teachers do in our district in terms of not only the educational and instructional side of things, but they teach you the ways of life and how to be respectful and how to handle yourself in front of a big crowd. We’re happy to keep it together for you guys.”

Section XI, Suffolk County’s governing body for athletics, encourages districts with more than one high school to split any combined teams that are not under budgetary, facility or participation constraints. The Smithtown cross-country team has none of those issues. However, it is only encouraged. It is not a mandate. Gymnastics, swimming and bowling are the other Smithtown sports that have a unified East and West team.

“The team is a family, yet it is also an identifying aspect of our community, and keeping it combined simply makes sense,” junior runner Samantha Catalano said at a board meeting March 8. The team started an online petition that had 1,159 signatures at the time this was written.

Smithtown cross-country runner Matthew Tullo addresses the Board of Education with members of the team and community standing in solidarity. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Smithtown boys and girls cross-country team is facing the possibility of a split, following the release of Athletic Director Patrick Smith’s budget for 2016-17 which includes a recommendation to separate the one unified team to create individual high school East and West teams. Cross-country is one of four sports in the district that includes athletes from both East and West on one unified team. An online petition to keep the team together had more than 1,100 signatures at the time of this publication.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Smith said that Section XI, Suffolk County’s sports-governing body, encourages the district to split any combined teams within districts with multiple high schools that are not under budgetary, facility or participation constraints. Smith said that none of those factors are a problem for Smithtown cross-country at this time. He recommended splitting the teams as a means to create more opportunities for student athletes. Section XI recommends splitting teams when possible, though Smith said it is not a mandate.

“It’s based on the philosophy of the district,” Smith said. “We wanted to provide more opportunities for kids.”

Smith said allowing more athletes the chance to be starters and share in the spotlight if the teams were separated would only increase the community- and family-feel that the athletes have said they fear losing. Smith also said thinking behind the change was to provide chances for more athletes to earn interest, and ultimately scholarships, from colleges.

Members of the team and parents have attended the last two school board meetings, on Feb. 23 and Tuesday, to voice their opinions about the potential split. About 40 members of the team and the community stood in solidarity with the athletes who spoke during the public commentary period of the meeting Tuesday.

“We, as athletes, find this decision to be devastating to our sport,” sophomore runner Matthew Tullo said on Feb. 23. “Our sport has a sense of community we have created by being unified by the Smithtown team.”

Tullo addressed the board again Tuesday night.

“We just want to know why this is happening,” Tullo said. “We don’t understand it. We’re a family. We act as one. We’re closest as friends can be, and to split this up, it’s nonsense. We all, standing here, showing our support, it should be moving.”

Junior cross-country runner Samantha Catalano expressed a similar sentiment on Tuesday, suggesting that East and West are rivals in most sports. Cross-country, gymnastics, swimming and bowling are the only high school sports that have one team for the two high schools.

“The team is a family, yet it is also an identifying aspect of our community, and keeping it combined simply makes sense,” Catalano said.

The district’s Assistant Superintendent for Personnel, Karen Ricigliano, and Smith said the director plans to address the athlete’s concerns publicly at a board work session on Tuesday, March 15. The decision to split or keep the team unified will ultimately be decided by a school board vote.

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Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s varsity cross country team took third place in the Peter Pan Division at the Disney Cross-Country Classic. Photo from the Port Jefferson school district

The Port Jefferson cross country team had a great run at the Disney Cross Country Classic, held on Oct. 9 in Disney World.

During the competition, Port Jefferson’s Justin Julich took first place overall in the Peter Pan Division, a varsity boys 5K race that featured 187 national runners. Julich, a senior, finished with a time of 16 minutes, 24.60 seconds.

Julich’s win, along with teammate Sam Walker placing third and Alex Rebec placing in the top 25, put the Port Jefferson team in third place in the Peter Pan Division.

“This team truly achieved greatness,” Port Jefferson’s athletic director Debra Ferry said. “We are very proud of them.”

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The Middle Country girls’ cross country team poses for a group photo at Sunken Meadow State Park. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Middle Country girls’ cross country squad were handed the victory by forfeit, as they took on Commack Tuesday afternoon at Sunken Meadow State Park. Both teams were released together as the pack disappeared over the wooden footbridge for the 2.7-mile event, but Commack ran the wrong course, leaving the Mad Dogs the victors by a score of 50-15.

It was a multischool meet with schools from all over Suffolk County pairing off in front of a large crowd of onlookers.

Camila McCusker runs for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon
Camila McCusker runs for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon

Middle Country head coach Bill King said both teams were evenly matched and knew the meet would be determined by a couple of points. Nearly 20 minutes after the start of the race, the best runners of the day turned the corner and headed down the home stretch. The only problem was, it was only Commack crossing the finish line, without a Middle Country runner in sight.

King said he couldn’t understand the disparity, and Middle Country senior Olivia Rogers said the Commack runners didn’t complete the same course that her team ran.

“The times are a little messed up because Commack ran a different course than we did,” the co-captain said. “We ran a different distance than they did —  they took a shortcut, so I don’t know if there’s even going to be a score.”

It turns out that King’s suspicion was right, and after a lengthy postrace investigation, the Commack runners were found to have turned off the official race route and ran a shorter distance. The Commack head coach admitted his team’s mistake and handed the victory to Middle Country.

“It should’ve been a very close meet, but I knew something was wrong when I saw them coming in one, two, three and four,” King said. “It should’ve been much closer, and the difference should have only been a couple of points [between us].”

But before the dust settled, the first across the finish line for Middle Country was senior Samantha Plunkett, who said she wasn’t happy with her performance because she had done better at her previous meet.

Samantha Plunkett runs for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon
Samantha Plunkett runs for Middle Country. Photo by Bill Landon

“I’ve run faster than I did today, so it wasn’t my best,” she said. “I ran faster two weeks ago when we versed Lindenhurst, but today, the conditions were OK.”

Crossing the line in second was sophomore Camila McCusker, who has similar feelings as Plunkett regarding her own performance.

“Today wasn’t my best — I was a couple of seconds off,” McCusker said. “It was a little hotter today than normal.”

Crossing the line for third was Rogers, followed by sophomore Kayla Juran, and finishing in the final points paying position was eighth-grader Nevaeh Kallon.

“We have a close group of girls — [myself], Camila McCusker, Kayla Juran and Samantha Plunkett,” Rogers said. “The team we versed last time was Sachem East, I think they’re the best in the county, so they pushed us really hard. We wanted to stay as close as we could with them; gain some respect.”

Middle Country competed with just nine girls, where most other teams field many more runners. King said that his team puts the emphasis on quality, not quantity.

With the win, Middle Country improves to 3-1 in League II and hits the road next for a tri-meet with Sachem North and Central Islip on Tuesday at Sunken Meadow State Park at 4 p.m.

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