Beall Track Club – otherwise known as Baldwin High School of Pittsburgh – took five guys to New York this past weekend to compete in three relays at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships - the Distance Medley, the 4xMile, and the 4x800. They came away with one all-American award, but were tantalizingly close to garnering similar honors in the other two.
They started the meet with a bang, capturing 4th on Friday afternoon in the DMR in 10:24.42, a season best, and a slight improvement on their 4th place showing at the state meet a week ago.
But the busy day was Saturday, as they opened mid-day with an 18:09.64 4xmile. The time left them in 7th - one spot out of all-Amerian - by less than a second.
They added another close call in the early evening as they ran 8:00.94 in the 4x800 - again taking 7th. In this one they were just over a second out of the final all-American slot.
But Baldwin assistant, and distance coach Rich Wright was far from disappointed in the experience and the performances. "I am very proud of these five boys. The parents and the district (provided a van) were very supportive of getting us here. We couldn't have done it without that help."
But there was much more to the experience than just racing in the three relays. The time spent together helped bring out the best in everyone.
It started with the gift of a pair of spikes at the end of last season, and continued with the gift of another pair of spikes on Saturday morning. But it's all reflective of a close-knit program built on tradition and competition.
The first pair of spikes in this story belonged to graduated star TJ Hobart. Hobart was the latest in a recent line of distance studs who have thrived in the Highlanders program. In fact, Wright says the grads are a part of their continuing success. Runners like Dan Mazzocco, Ryan Sheehan, David Adley and Hobart will come by practice when they're back in the area to run with the guys. And it's that kind of support that Wright says keeps the line of success going.
It's a line that Wright believes will continue with sophomore Bobby Bishop (Left in photo by Don Rich). And it was Hobart who recognized the natural talent in Bishop when he came out for the track team as a freshman last year. Bishop had been a wide receiver in a distance runner's body - and the distance runners in the school made sure he knew about it.
Bishop did play football his freshman year, so he didn't run cross country. The team talked him into coming out for track, and Hobart knew natural speed and talent when he saw it. So when it came time for Hobart to part for his collegiate career at the University of Virginia, he gave Bishop his favorite pair of spikes... a pair Bishop now uses for every race.
The pressure to quit football was enough to get Bishop to come out for cross country this past fall. And it was at the state meet that he did something Wright says none of the other stars had done since Mazzocco won the state title in 2001 as a senior. Bishop won a medal by finishing 23rd at last year's state championship in Hershey. And he's the first sophomore from the program to do it.
Wright and his team know they have a talented runner... one who is just learning the ropes of training, racing and more. And their confidence in him is expressed in his position as the anchor on the DMR, and on the 4xmile. With the quick Hobart as anchor last year, they had finished 4th at Nike Indoor Nationals - so Wright says when Bishop split 4:23, the team knew they had replaced Hobart.
A new pair of spikes also played a role in the Saturday races as Arkangelo James (they call him Ark), (Right in photo by Don Rich) tried out his first-ever pair of running shoes that Coach Wright and his wife had bought for him as a gift that morning in the Armory store.
James and his family came to the U.S. from Kenya when he was in the sixth grade with the help of Catholic Charities. Now a senior, James is being pulled in two directions athletically, thanks to his newfound talent in track. He's a star soccer player who is on a strong club team and has also received all-State honors. But just as with Bishop, the track guys can be relentless, and they talked James into sharing time with the outdoor program last year. He only ran one cross race, but joined the indoor team for his first experience on the shorter oval.
He picked it up quickly.
Since running a PR 800 of 2:06.11 in late January, followed by a PR 50.58 14th place in the 400 at States, he has dropped his four lap time to a 1:56 split in last Saturday's 4x800.
It must have been the shoes.
"He had been training and racing in soccer shoes," says Wright. "So when he got them on in the morning, he stayed in them all day until he put his spikes on for the 4x800."
And the spikes for the shoes were a gift that morning from his teammates.
The four seniors who ran on the three relays with Bishop - James, Matt Cecala, Dennis Logan, and George (Jeep) Crompton, all had something else on their mind over the weekend other than shoes.
(Matt Cecala in photo by Don Rich)
Long-time Baldwin cross country coach Bunny Schmidt is currently in the hospital being treated for bone cancer. She and Wright are the XC program at Baldwin, so the distance crew racing in New York was not just thinking about her on their trip, but according to Wright, they talked with her when possible.
"They wanted to run well for her," Wright said. "She's like a second mom to them. And these are my kids all year round as distance coach. It will be tough losing these four to graduation next year."
But in part thanks to Hobart's gift of spikes to Bishop, the string of great distance runners from Baldwin will likely continue. "He can be up there with the best we have ever had," Wright said.
As he thought about what he had just said, his smile said it all. The baton; or spikes, if you will; has been passed.
Matt Cecala 1200m 3:11 411 College: Monmouth Prep for Naval Academy
Arkangelo James 400m 49.1 1252
Dennis Logan 800m 1:59 1518 College: Bucknell
Bobby Bishop 1600m 4:24 (School record DMR split) 205
(Dennis Logan in photo by Don Rich)
Matt Cecala 4:28
Dennis Logan 4:30
George Crompton 4:51 544 Lost time to illness this winter. College: Coast Guard
Bobby Bishop 42:8
Matt Cecala 2:00
Bobby Bishop 2:00
Arkangelo James 1:56
Dennis Logan 2:03
(George Crompton in photo by Don Rich)