Running through the halls

And developing indoor track champions

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  • The coach and two of his stars. From left, Noah Sharp, Michael Bussow, Kayleigh Furth Photos provided

  • Furth and Sharp at a meet at The Armory in Jersey City

By Laurie Gordon

Newton High School has an indoor track team. But it didn't always. Now, a team is traveling to some highfalutin' meets and setting some impressive records.

Early in the 2011-2012 school year, several students approached teacher and runner, Michael Bussow, about starting a winter track team at Newton High School.

“At that time I was committed to volunteering with the Polar Bears club, meeting at the Fredon Civic Center daily during the winter," Bussow said. "I volunteered to coach and the students were able to join the Polar Bears where I continued to coach three days per week. I began with a handful of dedicated track athletes and a couple students looking to stay fit for other spring sports.”

Since then, Newton has from twenty to thirty students on the team each season.

Bruce Wask worked with the students at the Fredon facility where student athletes can practice hurdles, shot put and high jumping in addition to sprints and distance training. Ray Morris, whose son Tylor was joining the team, also volunteered his time and extensive experience in coaching the distance runners back at Newton High School. John Burke and Dagmar Wojcik served as volunteer coaches. Both have expertise in different events and were able to make huge contributions in talent and time to the program.

Bussow said, “I became involved with the Polar Bears, a winter running club that formed as a spin-off from the Bears Running Club during their first season, as a volunteer coach. My son and daughter (Michael and Madison) traveled to the USATF and AAU cross country nationals and Junior Olympics while training with the Bears.”

The winter program was created to give the children that trained with the Bears Running Club the opportunity to train through the winter. The first season, they ran outdoors at Swartswood State Park. With the completion of the Fredon Civic Center, Wask was able to move the group indoors. This group is open to high school students and younger children as well, and it has since grown with the involvement of parents and alumni that have returned to coach.

“Several of my current athletes train two days per week with the Polar Bears, where they are joined by athletes from other area high schools,” Bussow said.

The first season the Newton High kids wanted a program, students were responsible for their expenses including travel to and from meets and practices. Once the season got underway, the school provided the bus transportation to the meets. Bussow organized fund raisers and managed the accounting, as each individual event entry cost seven or eight dollars. If a student entered four events, the meet would cost that individual thirty two dollars.

“I saw this as an unfair cost to the students,” Bussow said. “ It also limited participation on the team. During our fourth season, the school contributed to the cost of entering the meets. I still have a tight budget to work with and negotiate a schedule that keeps fees to a minimum. Our fund raising efforts allowed an additional meet this season and also deferred some of the cost of entering showcase meets such as Eastern Championships and the New Balance Nationals.”

There is no organized league for winter track in Sussex County, despite several schools running successful programs. Newton has entered meets held at Fairleigh DIckinson University, Rockland Community College, East Stroudsburg University and The Armory in Jersey City in their first few seasons. The team is small, having eighteen students this year but, said Bussow, they are dedicated. This year, he has one high jumper working with the Polar Bears, but the rest of his squad are under Bussow's tutelage.

“I'm mostly on my own at the school with training,” he said. “There are no approved volunteers to this season.”

There is no indoor track at Newton High School, or anywhere in the county for that matter, so the kids run through the halls.

“We have a 300 meter hall loop,” Bussow said.

If it's dry and above freezing, the team heads outside for practice. And then there are the meets.

“To challenge our elite athletes and provide opportunities for others to attempt new events, I've brought the team to meets at Ursinus College, The Armory in Manhatten, and the new Ocean Breeze athletic complex in Staten Island,” Bussow said. “We've attended six meets as a team, in addition to the NJSIAA Sectional Championship meet for Group 1 North schools in Toms River. A few of the students competed in the Dr. Sander Invitational at the New York Armory, an elite meet featuring Team USA in international competition and several top college teams.”

Kayleigh Furth and Noah Sharp are two of Newton High's top sprinters. Both are seniors and school record holders in the 200 meter, 300 meter, 400 meter and 600 yard distances and are both national qualifiers for the 200 meter dash. Both set school indoor records in the 300 meter dash at the Dr. Sander Invitational this season at 41.40 and 34.64 seconds.

“Kayleigh joined us her freshman year and teammates help convince her to run spring track as well,” Bussow said. “Kayleigh was runner up in the 400 meters at the Group 1 North 1 Sectional meet but won the state group 1 championship in the 400 with a time of 58.01 seconds. Kayleigh will be competing in the Meet of Champions in the 200 meter and 400 meter dashes as well as the 4x400 meter relay. In addition, Kayleigh holds the school indoor records in the 55meters as well as several outdoor records. She has committed to Cornell University.”

Of Sharp, Bussow said, “He has been a great addition to our team. He is the section and Group 1 Champion in the 400 meters at 51.05 and will be competing in the meet of champions on Sunday. He also holds Newton's 400 meter outdoor record.”

Newton's girls 4x400 relay team of Kass Wojcik, Ashley Moreland, Madison Latimer and Kayleigh Furth placed fourth at the Group 1 Championships in 4:14.31 and will take that to the meet of champions. They will also compete in the 4x200 relay at the Eastern States Championships in New York. Wojcik has been with the team for four years and holds the 55 meter hurdle record and is committed to Bryn Mawr College.

Other qualifiers for the Group 1 Championships include Stefano Montalvo who ran the 3200 with a personal best of 10:14, Andrew Gratti placed fourth in the sectional meet in the 400 meters, Jaheem Shannon qualified in the 55 meter hurdles at 8.50 seconds, and Riley Catalano, a first year shot putter, also qualified.

Spring track will start in early March. For now, the Newton Indoor Track Team continues to run through the halls of the high school. There may be some sharp turns, but these kids are all well-rounded balancing their sport and their academics.

The last meet will be The Meet of Champions which is February 24-25 in Toms River this weekend. Furth and Sharp will run in the New Balance Nationals March 9-11.

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