Andes makes jump to track and field team for spring season

By John Bernhardt
Like most things at Andes Central School, the track program depends on a team-like approach to schooling. Everybody pitches in. For the smallest school in Section IV, being small is a success criteria rather than a liability, more about making the best of what you have rather than focusing on what you don’t.

That was the philosophy Andes Athletic Director Margaret Brown practiced when the Mountaineers no longer had enough students to field a baseball team after the 2006 season. Brown never looked back, focusing not on what the school had lost, instead seeking athletic opportunities best suited for the future. Brown settled on tennis and track

In track, Brown picked a sport Andes track coach Jeff Rhone feels is a perfect fit for a small school.
“Track allows you to still have a team concept, yet you’re involved in a sport where the individual can perform and then continue to make improvements against that beginning performance,” Rhone explained.

Been there before
In Rhone, Andes has an experienced track man. Rhone grew up in Pennsylvania and attended Susquehanna Community High School. Rhone’s mom, Alice, coached track in some capacity for 25 years, and Rhone has been involved with the sport since he was a youngster. In high school, Rhone participated in just about every event.

“They threw me around wherever they needed somebody for a particular event,” Rhone chuckled.
But, Rhone’s specialty was pole vaulting. In college, Rhone was a “Flying Dutchman” and still holds the school pole-vault record at Lebanon Valley.

At Andes, coaching track is all about team. Rhone shares coaching duties with Natasha Merritt, a high school social studies teacher and Adam VanValkenburgh, who teaches physical education. Merritt competes in triathlons and recently tried her hand in Tough Mudder Competitions.

“It’s been nice to work with an adult team putting together our track program,” Rhone noted. “We share a common concept of what track should mean at Andes, and we each have our individual roles to help realize that vision.”

There is no real track at Andes. The coaches measure out and paint lines on the school’s soccer field to emulate as much of a track as they can, but they often take to the roads. With the help of local ACS graduate and elementary teacher Jen Finkle, the coaches have identified seldom-traveled roads where their runners can train safely.

“Rather than running 250 meter reps on a modern track, you might find our team running them on a dirt road somewhere in the district,” laughed Rhone.

The program did add a long-jump pit behind the school last spring. Local volunteers pitched in to construct the pit using heavy equipment donated by Bill Drew and the time, know-how and sweat of Ed Bacon, Mike Terry and Chris Long.

Participation started slowly with numbers running just below or just above a dozen students in the early years but student interest has exploded. Between 25 and 30 students in grades seven through 12 are on the team this spring. The coaches invite everyone to take part.

“A beautiful thing about track is we can find that student who hasn’t necessarily been a participant in athletics in the past, and we can bring them on our team and find a place for them. We’ll find an event where they are successful, where they can improve. To me, that’s the greatest success story of all,” Rhone emphasized.

Much of Andes track magic comes from the positive environment established by the coaches. The program is organized around three big goals; one, work hard every day; two, stay positive no matter what and number three is a question. Is what you’re doing a goal for you, a goal for me and a goal for society? If the answer to any of the three is no, Andes coaches encourage their players to consider an alternative action.

The first thing ACS track players do each year is complete a goal sheet. The sheet identifies two events they want to try. Students are next asked to establish two goals, one a short-term goal and the other a long-term goal, to drive their preparation for each event. Performance results in early trials become benchmarks students use to measure their progress as the season ensues. “The key is to only compare your performance against you’re previous performance. Everything is based on where did I start, where did I end and did my numbers improve,” said Rhone. “If, from the beginning of the season to the end of the season your numbers improve, no matter how fast you run or high you jump, then you’ve had a great season.”

Every year those numbers improve at Andes. The ACS track coaches strongly believe all kids want to work hard, but sometimes they simply have to be shown how. The ACS track staff has been busy helping show their charges just that.

In the fall, the Andes PTSA funded a program bringing Micaiah Abts, a fitness expert who resides in East Meredith, to the school to conduct an eight-week fitness program. Nearly 15 students took part, learning training techniques and practicing and charting progress between visits. Merritt continued the effort running a month-long fitness program in the ACS weight room in the pre-season.

Andes is a member of the Tri-Valley League in track, competing against teams like Morris, Cherry Valley, Gilbertsville-Mt Upton, and Edmeston. Rhone feels sophomore Torin Bacon could make some noise in the 800-meter run this spring with the young runner targeting two minutes, 15 seconds as a stretch goal. Shianne Coss will be competing in the 400-meter sprint with Rhone explaining his running star has yet to conceptualize how good she could be. The ACS coaches are pleased with the leadership of two seniors, Josh Harp and Olivia Stokes, who both participate in throwing events.

But, it’s not the trailblazing performers who drive the Andes coaches, it’s the every kid chasing down a personal best. Rhone said it best. “There are so many students that have come through that have shown major improvements, not only in their athletic achievements but in their ability to participate in a group and to be positive people.”