Staten Island High School XC 5K Championships, Boys' race, by Jeff Benjamin
Staten Island High School XC 5K Championships, Girls' race, photo by Jeff Benjamin
Updated November 27, 2016 with quotes. Added quotes in bold.
This is a piece the Jeff Benjamin came to me, wanting to write about the pressure of racing in one's hometown. I like the idea, and think you will too!
"Don't use my name, but I used to scout out Staten Island runners at meets like the Easterns and Manhattan like other coaches. But, if I really wanted to look at them mentally and see how they responded to pressure, I'd come down to Clove Lakes for their Staten Island Champs. It's one of those secrets I kept to myself." - Former NCAA XC Coach.
On a Fall Saturday two weeks ago, approximately 70 high school boys, followed 30 minutes later by 70 high school girls, competed in the local Staten Island High School XC 5K Chamoionships. The meet, held at Clove Lakes Park, was begun by Staten island Running and Coaching legend Bill Welsh in the 1950's. Now more than a half century later, it has and still remains the only true borough championship in New York City, with Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx not ever being able to produce one. On Staten Island, this Public, Private and Catholic school tradition truly brings out the borough's best.
If one were to know Staten Island running history outside of the borough , they might be aware of names like Artie Evans, Charlie Marsala, Paul Buttermark, Ed Healy, Frank McConville, Scott Farrell, Neil Donahue, Caitlin Tormey, Jesse Carlin, Kevin Jermyn and Bob Andrews to name a few. Each of these athletes competed in their high school years in these same championships, which brings up the great question- while competing at the city, state, national, and for some, the world class level- how did they feel toeing the line here in front of their friends, family, peers and coaches about competing over the local bragging rights?
According to Indiana University All-American runner Charles Marsala, "I never really felt the pressure on the track." One of the top prep runners from the early 1980's, Marsala would go on to run a 3:37 1500 and 3:58 mile and finish 5th at the 1992 U.S. Olympic trials.
"But in cross country my senior year (1982-83) when Neil Donahue was a sophomore at Msgr Farrell high school, I didn't run my usual race...I just took it out real hard and hoped he was settling for second," said Marsala. "You always wanted to win at home when you're the favorite so in some respects in the back of your mind the pressure was there." Marsala's concerns about Donahue may not have been unwarranted. Donahue would compete in his senior year in the Kinney Cross Country (now Footlocker) and compete for Coach Frank Gagliano at Georgetown and the Reebok Enclave club in Washington DC under both Gags and Matt Centrowitz Sr.
Jeff Brannigan competed locally on Staten Island at Curtis high school. "I'm not sure if I would refer to it as "pressure", said Brannigan, who went on to compete for Centrowitz Sr. at American University. "But competing in the local race on Staten Island was definitely something that I got up for mentally. I wanted to perform well in front of my family, friends and teammates. In high school we wanted to earn the bragging rights for the borough but also throughout the city. The same was true for when I came back to the NYC area each year during college for competition on the track."
Today Brannigan is part of the Stretch Science Company. Based in the Washington DC area they use active stretch therapy as a recovery and performance tool for people from beginners up to Olympic athletes, including NYC Marathon elites and 2016 Olympic 1500 Champion Matthew Centrowitz. "As I progressed in the sport, I was introduced to much higher levels of competition, but there was always something that made competing on your home turf in front of family and friends a little more special," he said.
Tottenville high school alum Kevin Jermyn has been involved in almost every aspect of the sport successfully. As a prep, he won the prestigious Millrose Games High School Mile in Madison Square Garden against a national field. "Competing for a Staten Island championship was a major goal," said Jermyn, who later on competed at Georgetown, then under coach Gags and Centro Sr's Reebok Enclave, and became a very successful NCAA Coach at Duke University. "This championship received the largest coverage by the local Staten Island Advance newspaper and had the most sizable and passionate fan base" said Jermyn, who today is the newly-appointed Executive Director of the Chicago Area Running Association. Always a team player Jermyn said, "Team bragging rights trumped individual honors for me and we felt the pressure to produce; It was an awesome event."
"Have I ever felt "Staten Island Pressure" during my competitive running career? Absolutely!" Said former Farrell star Frank McConville. "But I must say, I used it as a catalyst to train harder and hopefully compete at my highest level. During my high school days, championship races on the Island were the targets to be in my best seasonal form with City and State championships close behind. The pride of competing for Monsignor Farrell in front of family and friends was strong incentive to be at my peak while competing locally. Once in college, things changed quite a bit," said McConville who also went on to Georgetown, where he broke 14 minutes for the 5000 on the track and, in 1984 earned All-American status in XC. "I was lucky enough to have competed at many of running's top collegiate events (Penn Relays, X-C nationals etc) during my Georgetown career." McConville would continue to race post-collegiately and run a 2:22 NYC Marathon on a hot day in 1987. "Though I have been fortunate enough to have competed across this fine country it was the local races that defined my career. No matter the result on a given day it was always good to be home!"
Bob Andrews had a different take on the pressure of racing locally. Running under the legendary Bill Welsh at New Dorp High School, Andrews knew fully well what the SI Champs represented to him. Andrews, whose son Robby is a 2016 Olympian and one of America's best 800 and mile runners, was motivated by the history of the Sport locally, as well as by Welsh. "He had supreme confidence in you," said Andrews, who himself would go on to a successful racing career at UPenn and later on for Mike Barnow's Westchester track club, consistently clocking sub 1:50 times over the 800. "You were not ever afraid to go to the starting line, not only on Staten Island, but anywhere in NYC, Pennsylvania and New Jersey for that matter. I didn't feel the pressure. I knew I had run faster times than my competitors. Your coach (Welsh) believed in you. He had prepared you. He knew you would do well."