Challenger Track Meet at Pinelands a Big Hit the First Time Around
Pinelands Regional Challenger athlete Carlie Evans was elated with her long jump of 4 feet. Southern Regional’s Justice Selleck was just as excited about his disc throw of about 66 feet. But for senior Callie DeMaria, the experience was more about seeing smiles than witnessing amazing athletic feats.
“Seeing all the athletes smile when they got their medals was awesome,” said the Pinelands track and field athlete, one of many student volunteers helping out as “buddies” for the Challenger League track and field meet at Pinelands Regional High School on Sunday, April 2. “They’re so happy that they can be a part of something like this, just having fun doing the different events. This was my first time at a Challenger event, and it’s something I’ll remember forever.”
The product of a first-time effort by Pinelands Challenger coordinator Scott Beaton, Athletic Director Will Sundermann and track and field coaches Matt Fuller and Don Angelini, the meet featured 13 athletes from Pinelands, Southern and Lacey high schools, while 14 buddies from the schools assisted in various ways.
“Traditionally, we do baseball or softball in the spring, but we wanted to try something different,” Beaton said. “Matt Fuller came to me in the fall and asked about the possibility of doing a track meet. He told me about how the NJSIAA Meet of Champions had several unified races now, and we figured we’d try to do something similar. We figured we’d test the water and see where it goes.”
Joe DiPietro, who oversees the Challenger program at Southern, was on board immediately, and coach Kelly Frischman liked the idea of something different as well.
“It was a fantastic idea,” Frischman said. “It was a nice change of pace for our athletes, and they enjoyed it. They got to do a variety of things and interact with students they don’t always see, so I thought it worked out really well.”
Following the national anthem, the Challenger athletes competed in the 60-meter dash, javelin throw, 200-meter run, long jump, disc throw and unified 4x100-meter relay.
But the beauty part was not in how well each athlete performed, but rather that each athlete was celebrated and received medals for competing – there were no losers, only winners. All around the track, there were lots of hugs, high-fives, pats on the shoulder and smiles galore.
The true nature of the event was summed up in one particular instance, when Jaycee DeMaria walked across the infield, hand in hand, with Aaliyah Mottershead, as they set up for the 4x100 relay.
“What I saw was a bunch of teenagers who didn’t see a difference with anybody,” said Fuller, who was extremely pleased with Pinelands’ first attempt at hosting the event, which he hopes to make a staple within the Challenger League. “They were just athletes out there, doing their best. There was no Southern and Pinelands and Lacey. The interaction was great for everybody. And I’m sure it was an eye-opening experience for some of them.”
As for the athletes competing, Beaton said the track meet definitely allowed them to be more engaged than the average softball game. He also said the parents were happy with the structure of it, which gave each athlete the opportunity to compete in all the events. Some went home with five or six medals.
“There was something very pure about it,” Beaton said. “The athletes had a lot of fun with it. The buddies had a lot of fun with it. Everybody was involved in some way. And as I talked to some of the parents, they couldn’t believe their kid just ran 200 meters and enjoyed it so much.”
Besides Evans and Mottershead, the other Pinelands Challenger athletes were Mike Davies, Sam Sloan and Teddy Marsousis, while their buddies included the DeMaria sisters, Sarah Keady, Monica Mahon, Susie Grelak, Tatianna Mickens, Emily Roth, Rachel Balko and Tristan Pharo. Selleck and Jacob Reed represented Southern’s Challenger team, along with buddies Matt and Chris Marinelli, Collin Boero and Dan Sullivan. With buddy Christina Lanza assisting, Lacey’s athletes were Abby Korman, Ben Werner, Marissa Ionta, Kacy Rose Fernandez, Alexa Faria and Lauren Prosser.
Fuller and Beaton are hoping to expand the Challenger track meet for next year, and perhaps someday make it part of something bigger, such as the return of the Wildcat Relays.
“One of the goals is to get a little more community involvement,” Fuller said. “Maybe do it a little later in May and get some grills and more food out here – just make it more of a community atmosphere. And if we can ever get the Wildcat Relays going again, maybe we’ll make the Challenger meet a part of that somehow. We can do more, and we’re looking forward to seeing what can come of it.”