The ceremonial lap winner, by Jeff Benjamin
NYC Parks Adena Long (left), with ceremonial first lap winners, photo by Jeff Benjamin
This story has been two decades in the making, and it is the kind of story that makes Jeff Benjamin text me each night, with “when are you going to post my story?”
Well, Jeff, here it is, right in time for Thanksgiving!
A grand mix of some local, regional, national, and even world figures gathered here this morning (November 19) on Staten Island to celebrate a long-awaited goal- the grand opening of the NYC Parks Ocean Breeze Indoor track and field facility. The event, which was the result of almost 20 years of ideas, dreams and politics, displayed an end result to the over 1,000 people in attendance, that was, unforgettable. The crowd was in awe at the grand design of the whole facility, built upon 135,000 square feet, which included an area for field events as well as the hydrolic power banked turns along the 200 meter MONDO surface.
Bill Jakunis, Bill Welsh, Charlie Marsala, photo by Jeff Benjamin
As the ceremonies began, the crowd politely listened as many speakers from the local government level gave their presentations and statements about their hopes and plans for Ocean Breeze. The Ocean Breeze Staten Island Indoor Track Center, under the supervision of USATF NY President and Park administrator Lauren Primerano, is already playing host to a total of 70 meets this upcoming Indoor season. Most notable among those meets are the Bishop Loughlin Games, the Villanova Invitational, the USATF Hershey Youth Indoor Championships, and a series of mini meets known as “The Road to Portland”.
Among the notables in attendance from the Government level known in the athletics community were NYC Parks Assistant Commissioner for Public Programs Adena Long, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, and New York State Assemblyman and former Villanova runner Michael Cusick among others.
Attending from the World/National level were USATF Executive Committee member Ed Gorman along with IAAF Technical Committee member David Katz. The specificities of the new cage field area were constructed with Gorman’s help and input. Katz surprised the crowd with a unique presentation- certificates giving the facility full ratification by the IAAF. The certificates were signed by the newly-elected IAAF President Sebastian Coe. “People are wrong if they think this is one of the areas greatest facilities,” said Katz. “It is as good as any facility in the world!”
The New York Road Runners were well-represented as Co-CEO Michael Capiraso, Michael Rodgers, Mike Schnall and other NYYRR leaders visited the new Ocean Breeze Indoor center. Ocean Breeze has already served the club, as one of the areas used for the NYC Marathon start a few weeks ago. Schnall was also duly noted by some of the presenters, as he also had led the way towards establishing the track in his previous position in the NYC Parks department before joining the NYRR as Vice President for Community Engagement Initiatives, a job that no doubt will still include his involvement in the new track.
IAAF Certification, photo by Jeff Benjamin
From the local level, 1976 Olympic High Trials Champion Bill Jankunis and Staten Island’s only sub-4 minute miler Charlie Marsala, who also competed at Indiana University attended as well, looking around in awe like so many others. Jankunis, who upset the field, including Dwight Stones, in winning the 1976 trials to compete in Montreal, hinted that the facility, which is within close distance to his home, might motivate him to consider high-jumping again as a masters athlete!
But the greatest cheers from the crowd were saved for Jankunis’ and Marsala’s High School Coach, Staten Island’s greatest Runner and Coach, Bill Welsh. The Octagenarian Welsh, a former AAU National distance champion who once finished in the top 20 at the Boston Marathon and still competes to this day, perhaps longed for this track to come to fruition longer and stronger than anyone before. “It truly is a dream come true,” said Welsh, who was the subject of a 2015 film “10 Gold Medals” (Link— http://10goldmedals.com/
). Welsh then helped finish the ceremony by joining youth athletes in a ceremonial run to the finish line, with the crowd roaring their approval.
Let the Races Begin!!
For further information, along with a meet schedule please go to