Chuck Schneekloth, adidas Garden State Track Club, the RBR Interview, by Jeff Benjamin

Early adidas track spike, courtesy of adidas Communications

(Editor's note: The following piece is on a new and innovative club in New Jersey, the adidas Garden State Track Club. We thanks Jeff Benjamin, a long time contributor to RunBlogRun, American Track & Field, and yes, even, American Athletics. )

Updated February 24, Last name is Schneekloth.

The Garden State Track Club
By Jeff Benjamin

In today's complex athletics world, it is difficult for post-collegiate American athletes to find a club willing to support it's endeavors, particularly those who are just below the cusp of regional and national levels. Coach Gagliano's NY-NJ Track Club has filled the void for many of the elites of the sport in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area.area. 
However for an aspiring athlete performing below that level, there is a place--the Garden State Track Club. It's President and founder Chuck Schneekloth has now attempted to fill that void  . Setting standards of team camaraderie and inclusiveness throughout the state, the Garden State Track Club has emerged as a rising club in the area, filling a much-needed void.

I had the opportunity to interview Chuck recently--

 RBR, # 1)Tell us a little bit about about yourself in relations to the sport

Chuck: "I have a silver '94 and bronze '95 medal from NJ Meet of Champions 4x400- we ran 3:16.65 my senior year at Metuchen (I was the slowest leg, ha ha).
I was "all Big East" four times, and "All East" once on a 4x800 relay at IC4As while a 1:52 half miler at Rutgers.  I was team captain my final year of both track and XC..As a coach, i was voted the 2001 Track and Field Oregon HS Coach of the Year for winning the 3A state title at Seaside HS--my first year as a teacher and head coach.  We won it at Hayward Field!  After winning a district title the next year, I left for California...but, this past summer, was inducted into the Seaside HS Hall of Fame. My Head Coaching accomplishments are as follows--
1) Head Coach at Castlemont HS from 2002-2004, then 2007-2009.  Won 4 Oakland Athletic League (OAL) titles.
2) Head Coach at San Francisco State University from 2004-2005.  Broke indoor school record in 4x400 relay
3) Head Coach at New Brunswick XC in 2010-- voted 2010 Greater Middlesex County Coach of the Year
"I started up the Adidas GSTC in fall of 2010
I am a also a USATF certified level 1 and 2 coach, but the biggest influence of my coaching has been the Emerging Elite Coaching Clinic which I applied and was accepted to in the summer of 2009.  It was an all-expenses paid training in the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA, whereas some of Team USA's best coaches delivered a week's worth of instruction that has profoundly changed the way I coach athletes.
RBR, # 2) Why/how did you come up with the GSTC?

Chuck: "I spent ten years on the West Coast, living in both Oregon (2) and California (8) and club running is very popular over there.  No one runs "unattached"; everyone is on a team!  I very much enjoyed my experience with the Asics Pacesetters in Portland and the West Valley TC in San Francisco, so when I returned to New Jersey--I instantly looked for a team to join.  However, every team I researched seemed to cater toward either the masters runner or the recreation runner.  I then asked some of my old Rutgers teammates what they were doing, and they all seemed to be in the same place.  So, I just started a new team: one that catered towards younger people and competitive people.  Needless to say, there were a lot of others looking for the very same thing. "   

RBR, # 3) Did you have a group of people supporting your vision?

Chuck: "I rounded up a handful of old friends (Cathy Stutzman, Chris Tafelski, Steve Bonica, Alex Fowlie) and we started voting on a logo, team name, and team colors in the fall of 2010.  Thanks to my school administration training at UC Berkeley, I knew the key to a sustainable organization would be a strong governing body of committed, talented, and creative leaders who had genuine ownership of the team and its decisions.  And now, to be fair, a big reason for the club's growth has been our incredible Leadership Team that has grown both in size and capacity over the years.

However, it takes more than a few people behind laptops to start a club.  We were fortunate enough to have Jeff Perrella, a former Westfield athlete of Tafelski's, in our corner.  Not only is Jeff an incredibly talented runner, he is also just a charismatic, personable guy who everyone likes.  We built our distance team around him, as everyone likes to be around a winner--especially when that winner has a great sense of humor.  Our original crop of recruits, top-ten finishers at the 2010 Big Chill 5k, were mere freshmen at Rutgers: Mike Obsuth, Dan Teichmann, and Kyle Flyer.  Their upbeat energy toward the sport, coupled with Perrella's reputation and results, gave us the youthful, competitive image we needed to gets things rolling.  

Our track group started with an innocuous email from Tyrone Ross, a former teammate of mine at Metuchen HS, who has a 45.93 PR in the 400m.  He was looking for a coach, not knowing it was my team he was contacting.  That winter, in 2011, we had just four guys running over speed bumps around the front of the high school, as the track was snowed over.  Like any organization, we certainly had our modest beginnings, but unlike most others--we were constantly recruiting at meets, hustling on Facebook, and inviting everyone we could to our sprinter practices.  The same way we built our distance program around Perrella, we built our track team around Ross.  They are both franchise players, and I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be having this conversation if it wasn't for both of them.

Our Founding Members did share a vision of a club that was bigger, more inclusive, and unifying than anything the state currently had.  We voted on the name "Garden State Track Club" (over the "Jersey Track Club") because we wanted a state-wide organization that would find a way to bring all types of runners together in a meaningful way.  We didn't want to be a club that specialized in just one distance or one county; we wanted everyone, from beginners to elites, wearing the same uniform proudly.  We also felt strongly about the importance of doing community outreach, hence our "Essays 4 Equipment" initiative we started that enables us to provide gently used running equipment to disadvantaged, low-income youth runners in New Jersey.  We recognize our collective good fortune, and we believe in giving back to those less fortunate, but every much just as deserving, as us."  
RBR, # 4) What do you think was your breakthrough accomplishment in the early years?

Chuck: "In April of 2011, the team of Iuri Pinto, Hedolis Jaquez, Chris Tafelski, Mike Anis, and Perrella won Event 1 of the Penn Relays: the now-defunct Distance Classic 5k.  While it was fun to take a triumphant team picture at Franklin Field with a wheel, it was too far from NJ for anyone to really take notice. The needle finally moved in June that year, when we won our first team race in NJ, the USATF-NJ 5k Championships at the President's Cup.  Not only did we win the team title, Perrella won the race in 14:50--a performance that far exceeded the typical victory in the "Jersey League."  From there, the phones started ringing a bit more frequently.

The breakthrough accomplishment for our sprint group came a bit later, in January of 2012.  Still a relatively unknown entity on the track scene at that point, we were invited to take a lane at the US Open held at Madison Square Garden for the only non-professional event: the sprint medley relay.  In the race were the East Coast club powerhouses of Shore AC, Central Park TC, Zenith Velocity, Greater Philadelphia TC, and Gotham Spark.  The quartet of Tony Harris, Duval Sewer, Ricky Garcia, and Mike Brito, all of whom I was coaching three times a week, ran an incredible race, out leaning Zenith by .01 to take the surprise win.  From that day forward, everyone's mentality--including my own--changed.  We no longer felt like the outsiders or the newbies.  We certainly didn't feel like the undisputed champions of the world, but I think we all realized that the GSTC was no longer just a bunch of distance runners in gold singlets".     

RBR, # 5) How would you describe the progression of the club?

Chuck: "The most significant way we have progressed is in our leadership structure. Whereas we once had a small, traditional board of secretary, treasurer, etc., our Leadership Team has since evolved into a more dynamic group of twenty-five stakeholders who represent various regions, event groups, and roles within the team.  This group is directly responsible for voting on all major decisions of the club, and as president, it's my job to simply facilitate and then execute these decisions.  For example, one big decision they made in January was to expand our coaching staff to accommodate for our expanding membership base.  Now, instead of just a select few coaches on staff, we have a dozen experts willing to work with any dues-paying club members.  We have also progressed with our team events.  Over the past few years, we now host two growing running events- the Road Relays and the College Ave Mile--both of which have developed steadily over the years.  In fact, our road mile is now the biggest and fastest one in New Jersey, and it is the first road mile to be in the USATF-NJ Grand Prix Championship Race Series.  Along with yearly team events like our awards banquet, summer beach day, and winter hockey outing, we have weekly team long runs and fifteen coordinated team runs/workouts through the state every week.
Finally, our membership base has evolved, as well. With eight regional training groups in NJ--the North, Morristown, Jersey City, Summit, Central, Beach, Princeton, and South Enclaves--we have finally established a comprehensive team that can truly support the needs of any runner of any ability or background.  They each have Enclave Captains that organize each group like its own club, yet they all share the same vision as smaller versions of the GSTC."

 RBR, # 6) How have you been able to include such a diverse geographic, track, field and road running group together throughout the entire state?

Chuck: "We have been able to include a diverse demographic by focusing on organized smaller groups while keeping them connected to the larger team.

People want organization and thoughtful leadership, and that's what we strive for in every subgroup of our team.  Our throws group has flourished under James Luginsland, while our three track and field captains Mark Parisen, Ricky Garcia, and Erin LaCosta have helped us keep a good synergy there.  The addition of coach Carmine DeNicola has also helped our jumps, sprints, and hurdles crew.  We have men's distance running captains, Mike Fonder and Ken Goglas, along with three women's co-captains in Cheyenne Ogletree, Angela Dunn, and Erika Meling, who organize our membership and design lineups for our team races.  Dan Teichmann has served as our Rutgers captain for years, while Matt Baker has done a great job with our masters runners.  These groups, along with our regional enclave training centers, are all held together by Facebook group pages that keep communication going between members.

However, another essential part of our success is maintaining a vibrant team-oriented culture throughout the entire club.  While it's inevitable that specialized groups will train together, there is always a sense of integration and community within all subgroups of our team.  Our athletes drive hours for team practices, races, and events, resulting in most members knowing other members well.  Nothing is done in isolation, and for as spread out as we are, there is always a "family feel" to every aspect of our team.  We have a weekly email that celebrates the accomplishments of every member and announces the upcoming events of every training group.  The Facebook group pages are places where various team subgroups integrate in fun, meaningful ways."  

RBR, # 7) Discuss your sponsorships?

Chuck: "Our team has been fortunate enough to partner with some incredible organizations that have genuinely strengthened our team's foundation.  First, adidas has played a pivotal role in providing both our leaders and our elites with uniforms and equipment to be successful.  In addition, our relationship enables all members of our team to benefit from this partnership, between discounts and incentive programs.  Our three-year contract also enables us the opportunity to work closely with the adidas Grand Prix Meet, one of the best track meets in North America.  For this sport to maintain its place in America, it's essential that we support meets like this that showcase the best of youth, high school, club, and professional running.  It is an honor and pleasure to help this meet in myriad ways.
We also have a very positive working relationship with the largest road race in the state, the Norvo Nordisk NJ Marathon.  Joe Gigas, the race director, has been a valued partner for our club, and it has been our pleasure to organize the baggage for their 10,000 runners every year as a team fundraiser.

We have also developed many community partners within our headquarters of New Brunswick.  Local businesses like Mike's Courtside, DEVCO, Rutgers Recreation, RWJ Fitness, and the Olive Branch have all played an integral role in our growth and our thriving in central NJ.
RBR, # 8) Now that the club has taken off, what are the GSTC's long-term goals?

Chuck: "Our long-term goal is, primarily, to continue developing the many subgroups of our team.  We value all club members, and we genuinely wish to continue growing our membership base and the many enclave training groups that support it.  It's fun and inspiring to watch our members, regardless of ability, run faster and become more healthy over time.  That said, one specific goal of ours is to be a place where elite athletes, of all events, train to qualify for the Olympic Games.  We've already had athletes qualify for the Olympic Trials and the USA Championships, yet we are excited to begin attracting, developing, and qualifying athletes to the world's biggest stage.  We plan on applying for Distance Project status soon, with the hopes to secure more funding from the USATF to grow this part of our program.

Finally, we plan on rolling out a youth team soon.  We are excited to begin developing and supporting athletes in a more meaningful, long-term way.  This also engages our club in a more authentic way with our immediate community.  The high school scene has just exploded here in New Jersey, and we're excited to introduce the sport to children in a fun, meaningful, and structured way prior to their high school experience.

RBR, # 9) What has been the greatest accomplishments of the GSTC during the past two years?

Chuck: "Winning the 2013 USATF Club National Track and Field Championship was a huge accomplishment for our elite team in 2013.  Not only did we win, but we broke the meet record for most points scored by a team.  It was a genuine reflection of the talent, depth, and motivation that defines the culture of our elite team.  What really epitomized the camaraderie and passion of our team that day was winning the last four relay events- the DMR, SMR, 4x800, and 4x400- by a total of 1.02 seconds.  Winning a relay on a lean is exciting, but doing it four consecutive times was just exhilarating.  
Winning the 2013 USATF-NJ Overall Grand Prix Team Title was our other recent, great accomplishment.  This racing series is a year-long competition that designates points to teams in numerous age categories.  To win it, you must have a large team that encompasses all age groups, and we are proud of the fact that we have a deep pool of distance runners, both men and women, of all ages.  We also scored 521 total team points, a USATF-NJ association record, which we're proud of considering the many strong club teams in NJ over the decades.
We also sent five scoring teams- three men, two women- to the USATF Club XC National Championships in Bend, Oregon last December--the most scoring teams any club has ever had in the history of the event."

RBR, # 10) Who are your key people--organizing, coaching, performing-on the current club?

Chuck: "I've named many of them above, but Ken Goglas has now served as our vice president for two years, and he's done a terrific job at helping both behind the curtain and performing on stage.  Not only has he been a top performing distance runner for us, he has been coaching many of our elite athletes while also helping with the club management side.  Josh Neyhart has also stepped up and developed our social media presence, something essential for any organization to be successful in today's world.    

For more info--check out the Garden State Track club on their website---

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