Track still struggling with scheduling difficulties

Without a proper track, the PHS track and field team continues to struggle. Although the track was supposed to be finished this fall, unpredictable weather and the length of time it took to finish construction of the turf have contributed the delays. Now the team is trying to get into shape for the spring season without the advantage of practicing at its home base.

“We’re trying to provide our athletes with a positive experience, but not having the necessary resources is really making it very difficult for us to do our jobs,” said Head Coach James Smirk.
“I’ve had practice for the most part every day … but where that practice is and how it’s run has definitely been changed,” said Paige Metzheiser ’15, a distance runner.

One way the team has been working around this inconvenience is by holding practices at the Hun School of Princeton and Princeton University. At Hun, sprinters and jumpers are able to practice relay handoffs and their respective events. All parts of the team complete their more intensive track workouts while at Princeton University. “We’ve had to make several changes to the schedule to try to find the ultimate places to practice to be able to … reach our full potential,” said Head Coach Rashone Johnson, who oversees the sprinters and throwers. At the Mercer County Relay meet on April 12, one of the PHS relay teams was disqualified on two accounts of illegal handoffs.

While the teams value the opportunities to practice skills in these facilities, they must now work around the varying schedules of the venues. “Our practice schedule has become very complicated … other sports have the ability to get changed, walk out, [and] have practice from 3:15[p.m.] to 5:30[p.m] or whatever their standard schedule is,” said Smirk. Practices that occur at the Princeton University Weaver Track and Field Stadium or the Jadwin Gymnasium indoor track must start at 6:15 p.m., while practices at Hun often only include certain contingents of the team. For some athletes, the irregular practices have actually helped open up more time in their own schedules. Jacob Rist ’15, a distance runner, said that the later practices have given him more time to complete his homework between school and track. On the other hand, he said, “It is a little bit of a canker to some people who have extracurriculars like music [lessons] … so they have to choose between running at the university and going to [music practice].”

The changes have brought financial and scheduling concerns as well. “The track was budgeted and scheduled to be done, and now it’s just incurring costs that it never should have, and ultimately [that money is] going to come out of programs,” said Smirk. These costs include money spent on buses to bring sprinters and jumpers to Hun for practices.

The accumulated costs of practicing at Hun and Princeton University could appear overwhelming to some, especially since the majority of the funding comes out of the school district, but the team has a way to counter that. “One of the things that … many people don’t know about our track program is that we have been fundraising for five years,” said Smirk.

By holding an annual fundraiser and asking for parent donations, numerous costs that would have otherwise been handled by the school board have been covered, all due to a combined effort between the athletes and coaches alike. One of the most effective fundraisers has been the Princeton 5K, which the team hopes will draw crowds of runners on May 4 in its fourth year. Rist said that although fundraising from the Princeton 5K has helped manage the costs, it was not started in preparation for the construction. Rather, “[it] is an attempt to fund for extra things [such as invitationals] so that kids have the opportunity to run faster times at the end of the season.” Invitationals give team members more racing experience that they can rely on come championship season.

The budget has not been the only thing jeopardized by the stalled construction. The success of the team, in competition and out, has been under strain especially since the snow has melted and the spring season has begun. “During the preseason, the team fared pretty well considering everything that’s happened … [but] I think that we definitely could’ve had a stronger start to the season if our track had been built,” said Rist.

“Our first couple meets were not our best,” said Metzheiser. “It felt like the whole season had been pushed back.”

In the meantime, the coaches feel that they can work around the difficulties while training at PHS. By using the surrounding fields, roads, and PHS weight room, the team aims to continue expanding the ability levels of new athletes. “Everybody walks into our program with an idea of what they think they can do, and what we want to do as coaches is completely blow that away … [and show them what they’re] really capable of,” said Smirk.

“We’ve got to get creative outside and find strips of grass wherever we can to [train as necessary],” said Johnson. The athletes cannot work out on the track as it is, because the impact of running on concrete causes shin splints and various other injuries that could potentially hurt the team in competition.

Despite these setbacks, four members of the girls team have already qualified for the Emerging Elite Sprint Medley Relay and Championship Super Sprint Medley Relay at New Balance Outdoor Nationals, and Michelle Bazile ’14 is currently ranked second in the state in the shot put. On the boys team, Jeremy Cohen ’16, Conor Donahue ’14, Joe Gray ’15, and Brandon Yao ’14 set a new school record and qualified for Nationals in the Sprint Medley Relay. However, the boys and girls teams were either unable to win some key meets or won by an extremely slim margin due to a lack of entrants. The team hopes the existence of a track will help newer athletes and other teams take the program more seriously.

“We don’t have a home right now; we’re completely nomadic,” said Smirk. The school recently announced that the track will be completed once the temperature is consistently above 50 degrees, finishing up the job that was supposed to have been done last fall. Once the weather improves, the track and field team looks to finally return home and get back to business as usual.