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MSG VARSITY - Pilots Getting On The Right Track

Posted Tuesday, May 11, 2010 by MSG VARSITY
 

Pilots Getting On The Right Track

BRONX, N.Y. -- Past the small Cardinal Spellman parking lot to fence-enclosed playing fields, sit a small group of kids stretching on the inside of a track before practice.  It's the afternoon and school has just ended, which means for them that practice is quickly approaching.

Standing in the center of the group is a woman not a foot over 5'2", indistinguishable from students, wearing sneakers with a Cardinal Spellman hood and sweater on.  To someone unfamiliar, she appears as just another student but upon closer inspection, her general presence belies the inspirational, jovial presence that is coach Simone Brown. 

A few of the players stretch while others talk, yet the thought of the approaching practice remains at the forefront of their minds, as witnessed by their weary, yet understanding faces.  Coach Brown is busy preparing one of her runners for practice, wrapping a player's ankles with a wry smile on her face as several of her kids regal her and each other with the exploits of their day... this is a family in the truest sense.

Victory is often the number one priority on any stage, but some times the best parts of sports have nothing to do with actually winning a game or even playing in one. It’s often those little moments in the process of building a team that can formulate bonds which can help players significantly more in life. And for the players on the Cardinal Spellman track team, the love they share for their team goes way beyond anything they do on the track because of their hard work and dedication.

“I always like the kids that have to overcome diversity and challenges in their lives. That’s what these kids do and continue to do,” said coach Brown. “For me, it’s not so much about great runners as it is having a team where everyone wants to work hard. I always like to compare it to a bank account, I tell them, if you deposit $100, you can’t go back and try to withdraw $200 that just isn’t there.”

On a team whose numbers have predictably dwindled over the season, those truly dedicated players who remain have still managed to form a fairly diverse group. The team consists of some track veterans, some cross-sport stars and even some first-timers. They each share a common goal though, and all diligently work because they want to get better.

In only their fifth years, Brown and assistant coach Stephanie Irving, both Spellman alumni, have not only continued a tradition of excellence at Spellman, but they have managed to significantly make a difference in the lives of their players. They have managed to help their players overcome a variety of roadblocks, both in and out of the classroom through the tenants they teach in practice.

For a student like Alexis Beverly, who has been in and out of suspension more than she can count, often fighting and getting into arguments with teachers and other students, being on the team has gone a long way toward helping her.

“I had a bad attitude problem. I just never listened; I was in detention every day, which made me late for practice everyday. But I straightened up because coach Brown talked to me and he helped me work that out, so I’ve been getting a lot better with it,” she added. “She just told me that when it comes to teachers, you’re never going to win. I would argue with them all the time over little things and she just showed me that it was pointless. She taught me how to gather my thoughts then come back to issues when I was calmer.”

And then there are students like Shaina Davis, for whom running has meant the world. With her father gone for long stretches of time because of his duties as a marine and her mother having passed away, Shaina looks at the team from a different perspective. Not only does she see inspiration, and camaraderie, but more importantly she sees family.

“I see this team as family, because for all the difficulties that we have through the pain, the injuries, the crying and the emotional things, we learned to be there for each other and help each other get through it,” chimed in Davis. "Track changed my life because it made me stronger emotionally and physically. I have gone through such a drastic change and I enjoy it."

Meanwhile Quadry Harris' is the ever-achieving star athlete, who in his quest to train, unexpectedly finds inspiration and kindred spirits. The captain of the Cardinal Spellman varsity football team, Harris is an incredibly hard worker with an indomitable will and a drive to succeed. He first joined the team as a junior, but a knee injury kept him sidelined until his senior year. He has had to battle injuries for much of his tenure of high school but never let's it stop him. And incidentally, that runner's ankle that coach Brown was wrapping happened to be Harris.'

"The most difficult thing has been battling injuries. I actually joined the track team prematurely than I had planned to because my football season ended early because I broke my hand. And then during the track season I suffered from shins splints. And now I currently have a sprained ankle. So injuries have been a big part of our season but we find a way to battle through it and keep on going," said Harris "Once you get into track, the running nature just fills you and you become accustomed to the sport. You start to love the sport and its unique in every sense because other than the relays, the sport is about yourself."

Perhaps what ties these runners together though is that both coaches know and understand their players because they come from track backgrounds themselves. Coach Irvin in particular knows about the rigors of overcoming adversity at such a young age very well. For much of her early years she was heavily anemic and suffered from frequent bouts of epilepsy. She had been on medication from the age of six and would suffer from these long episodes of seizures. But as most precocious kids at that age go, she refused to allow her impediment to stop her and started running track by the time she was 10 years old.

"It made me stronger. Medically, when a child is sick, sometimes that type of activity can be the best thing for them… I know it was for me. Track will always hold a special place in my heart because of what it allowed me to do. If I could do it all over again I wouldn't change a thing because it has made me who I am"

For these players and their coaches, track and field is a collection of everything. Sure there's pain, struggle, and even loss at times, but when you have a team that can support you and make you a better person, those things dwarf in comparison. When life throws adversity at you, it's nice to know that there's a place where you can go to turn things around.

 

"What we do is unlimited, we keep pushing ourselves more and more each day," said Shaina Davis as she looks towards her teammates with an unmistakable twinkle in her eye. "If I had to describe this team it one word, it would be… incredible."

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