Google Maps offers a variety of options for travel between Kingston and the United States Military Academy at West Point, the shortest of which clocks in at an overly optimistic 58 minutes. Fifty-eight minutes between Kingston High and where the boys and girls of the indoor track team have to travel to their home away from home, a cavernous indoor arena suitable for storing airplanes called Gillis Field House. The Tigers regularly compete there before a handful of dedicated parents and fans outnumbered by the size of the roster. It’s a far cry from the warm embrace of hometown support felt by teams who compete within city limits.
“We’re lucky if a couple parents come to a meet every once in a while,” said senior sprinter Kristen Gottstine. “I would love to be closer to home, not just so my fellow students could see the team run, but so that it didn’t take forever going from the high school to West Point every weekend.”
It isn’t that the members of the indoor track team are alone; they run, jump and throw against plenty of other schools in the same predicament. They cheer each other on and build a bond that stretches across grades. Middle school and high school students are drawn together by circumstance and barriers drop. It’s not exactly survivor mentality, but the “all for one and one for all philosophy” tends to grow stronger when it’s just about everything you’ve got outside of inner resolve.
“Of course I wish I could compete close to home so more of my friends and family could see me,” said Joeylynn Henderson, an eighth-grader who runs short distances and also competes in the long jump. “It doesn’t really bother me we compete so far away. I do better when people aren’t watching me: It’s a lot less pressure.”
Because of the weather, the lack of indoor facilities in the district and the distance between Kingston and West Point, the indoor track team hasn’t always found it easy to keep in condition between meets. Practices are often held in the hallways of Miller Middle School.
“It’s not the ideal place, but we’re very lucky to have somewhere inside to run,” said Gottstine. “It’s much better than being outside in the cold.”
Kassi Ellsworth, an 11th grader who competes in a number of different events, hasn’t found it easy.
“Even though I do hurdles, I haven’t been able to train or do any technique work on them because there are none for indoors,” she said. “To work on shot, I have to put on a winter coat and throw outside. The only thing you can really work on inside is a quick sprint, like a 55-meter dash. We have practice every day at Miller: It usually consists of a warm-up, stretching, a workout, then core or a quick cool-down. Also twice a week the team goes to the Den at the YMCA to lift and work on plyometrics.”
Kristine Carl, a senior pole-vaulter, also has to adapt.
“When I first started indoor, I had nowhere to practice, so meets became my practice,” she said. “It was a bit of an inconvenience to me. When this year came around, I decided to look into a club called the (Hudson Valley) Flying Circus (Pole Vault Club in Warwick) run by Tim St. Lawrence and Hugh Cauthers, and this has given me the practice I need to become a better vaulter.”
Though the Tigers scramble to figure out creative ways of keeping in condition between meets, Gillis Field House isn’t exactly paradise either, with most students finding issue with the surface of the track and the environment itself.
“Usually it gets really warm in there really quick, and it takes some time for your lungs to get used to it,” said Ellsworth. “Some people will develop a cough just from running inside there because it’s not ventilated well.”
The track itself is short — 200 meters as opposed to a more customary 400 — and unlike most outdoor tracks, spiked shoes are not permissible, leading to traction issues. But despite the complaints, the Tigers look forward to their weekly visits, in part because of the competition.
“I think the teams we go up against at West Point are what truly make it exciting,” said Jillian Brooks, a senior middle distance runner. “Section 9 is a highly competitive section and it’s always great to come out and run with the big dogs. One thing that I love about track is that everyone is so nice. I guess the sport is such high intensity that there isn’t much room for team hatred or rivalry. All the teams and athletes I come across are friendly and nice; I even have friends from other teams that I look forward to seeing at competitions.”
Indeed, while some of the Tigers pointed toward specific athletes or schools they consider rivals, it was more out of respect for competition than the kind of smash-mouth rivalries often found in other sports.
“Manny Mosey and Shakoy Burton from Middletown, they’re friendly rivals,” said Jones. “They’re always giving me tips on technique and give me really good competition.”
Patrick Cahill, a senior distance runner, echoed the sentiment.
“There isn’t just one specific team or athlete I consider a rival, but all the competition we go against is great,” he said. “There’s a lot of amazing runners that we race, and it’s an honor to race these guys.”
The New York groove
While West Point is a familiar home away from home, the Tigers often most look forward to competing at the Armory, the century-old home of the 69th Infantry Regiment of the New York Army National Guard and events center on Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue. While the crowd at West Point is often comprised of the competition, meets like last weekend’s Molloy-Stanner Games are another matter entirely.
“Running at the Armory is amazing,” said Cahill. “I love it down there. The track is fast, the stands are always filled and it’s just a great experience.”
Avossa took gold in the 55 meter hurdles at the Armory with a time of 7.90, while Carl won bronze in the pole vault with a height of 9-feet 6-inches.
Elementary school kids in Kingston who might aspire to be a part of the indoor track team should figure out what they like to do best, said Carl.
“When you find that one (event), take it and go with it,” she said. “Try your hardest and make yourself the best you can be.”
“As Nike would copyright, ‘Just Do It,’” he said. “There’s room for anyone on the track team. No cuts, and there an event for everyone to get attached to. Track has been one of my favorite aspects of high school.”
Just don’t expect to get famous, even locally.
“Sometimes competing for KHS is discouraging,” said Brooks. “I feel like indoor track never gets the attention or respect it deserves. I always do my best to represent KHS well; it’s just sometimes the lack of recognition is frustrating.”