by Mike Byrnes
Through the efforts of Jim Spier, Joy Kamani, Mike Byrnes, and Victor Lopez, the NSSF takes a team of 28 athletes to compete in Carolina, Puerto Rico.
From the rainforest to the track, Mike Byrnes takes you through the team's experience.
It had long been a dream of NSSF founders Jim Spier and I to take a team to compete in an international competition. Through the efforts of Joy Kamani, Victor Lopez and Jim that dream became a reality. A team of 28 athletes, 14 Girls and 14 Boys were selected from spots in the US ranging from Los Angeles to Mississippi to Minnesota to Colorado Springs to Custer, SD. I coached the Boys team while Joy was in charge of the Girls. Our jobs were a snap. The ones who had the tough jobs were the Assistant Managers; Chelo Canino, 'Firefighter Extraordinaire' as she's described by Spier; along with the heartbeats of the trip, Patrick Tomasiewicz and Rekha Ayalur. They handled all the travel problems, designed the team logo, babysat, took charge of uniform distribution and anything else that had to be done. They did their tasks wonderfully well!
Special thanks go to Our Man in Puerto Rico, VICTOR LOPEZ. He is the retired coach of Rice University and currently serves as Presidents of both the Central American & Caribbean Association and the North American, Central American and Caribbean T&F Coaches Association. He arranged for our hotel, the competition site, our practice track and a million other details.
NIKE provided us with team uniforms on which we had our 'TEAM NSSF' logo printed upon after their arrival. Suffice it to say we would have looked like a motley crew were it not for NIKE. We all, staff and team, send our thanks out to Beaverton.
What follows is a brief description of our trip and a roster of the first TEAM NSSF.
That was a phrase uttered by Rekha and Patrick repeatedly this first day as several team members had flights cancelled. Fortunately, we had the services of a terrific travel Agent, Joanne Gardner (The Travel Specialist - 1-800-494-3483) No, she didn't ask for a mention but one is well deserved.) She set up all 28 flights, handled a few problems and can be entrusted with your travel if you ever need someone.
TEAM NSSF's members departed from throughout the US but all flew into San Juan. There the City of Carolina (suburb of San Juan, and 'in-kind' sponsor of the meet) picked them up and transported them to the ESJ Towers (El San Juan Towers). Chelo took care of room assignments and room keys and--EVERYTHING WENT SMOOTHLY!
Those who arrived early had enough time to head to the beach for a little frolic in the surf and sunbathing. One of the neat things was how well all the kids got along. Friendships were forged quickly, e-mail addresses exchanged and TEAM NSSF was in business. One or two problems should be mentioned. Rekha had finally gotten to bed around 2:30AM. A couple hours later, her phone rang. Someone's flight had been cancelled and they needed to apprise her of the new arrival time. She handled it professionally at a cost of a nights sleep. Way to go, Rekha!!
Several TEAM NSSF members arrived too late to eat at the hotel so Chelo ran out, found a Burger King and supplied them with 'dinner.'
Thus ended the first day.
A WALK IN THE RAIN!
After eating breakfast, we boarded our bus for the trip to Puerto Rico's famed rain forest El Yunque. We wanted the trip to be more than just another track meet so we provided the team members with several opportunities to see and visit places they might not have ever seen. The trail descended a long, winding trail and the team quickly split into groups. This was caused by the rapidity of the leader. My group was lead by Jessica Beard and, just as she runs, she walks, fast. Halfway through the walk it began to rain, hard. But, WE'RE IN A RAIN FOREST DUMMY! IT IS SUPPOSED TO RAIN!
Midway through our walk we came upon a small waterfall. Some of the kids clambered up the rocks and stood beneath it. For most of the kids, this was the best part of the trip. For an old worrywart like me, all I could envision was someone slipping, spraining an ankle and being unable to compete. Many slipped but no injuries were reported.
Then we lunched at a splendid roadside restaurant in nearby Rio Grande, 'Antojitos Puertoriquenos.' The food was outstanding and we all enjoyed a hearty lunch after which we visited Luquillo, Puerto Rico's most beautiful beach. Some of the kids hit the ocean for a brief dip while others attempted to dislodge coconuts from their habitats. 269 coconuts were thrown upwards, ONE coconut was dislodged. This was laboriously peeled while on the bus. I had watched rather amusedly, but when we got to the fruit, I ate more than anyone. Believe me, fresh coconut is good.
Back to the hotel to change and head to practice. Due to field restrictions, none of the implements could be thrown. So everyone warmed up, jogged and began to put on their competition faces. These kids were having fun but none forgot who they were and why they were in Puerto Rico.
The relay teams worked on handoffs. The Boys squad was composed of Charles Clark, Karjuan Williams, Johnny Dutch and Trey Harts. These handoffs never jelled as none of the kids had ever run anything but anchor legs and Karjuan could not stop changing hands with the baton. The Girls team had Bianca Knight, Brandi Cross, Shalina Clark and Elizabeth Olear. EVERY RUNNER ON BOTH TEAMS WAS A STATE AND/OR NATIONAL CHAMPION!
Both won handily with the Girls team posting the #2 time in the world for Junior age (19 & under) Girls. WOW! But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Sorry.
After showering, we headed for Old San Juan where the kids went off in search of a good place to eat. They were basically on their own for about 3 hours but all were at the assembly point on time. At this point, I must tell you as to our keeping track of 27 kids. The aforementioned Chelo boarded the bus on our first trip and had a 'roll call.' Every kid got a number from 1 - 27. Each time thereafter, when we reboarded the bus, Chelo would holler, 'Sound Off' and the kids would recite their number. When all 27 had responded, off we went. Again, EVERYTHING WENT SMOOTHLY.
TIME TO GET SERIOUS
Since the meet began at 3pm, some of the kids went for a brief swim after breakfast. Then the 'game faces' came on. None expected to lose. For these kids a loss is a rarity and no one wanted to lose here. NONE did other than to teammates. In addition, if you think they played around, you are wrong. Two athletes, Charles Clark, 10.56 and Johnny Dutch, 51.72 400mH, posted PB's while many others weren't far off. And don't forget the 4x1 team's #2-World Junior clocking.
THESE KIDS ARE GOOD!
While the competition was rather weak, it must be mentioned that quite a few of the better Puerto Rican athletes were competing in Canada. Most of the races were competitive but TEAM NSSF was simply too good. Nine of members of TEAM NSSF will be traveling to Beijing to compete in the World Junior Championships in August.
More importantly, some nice friendships were made with our hosts and, again, e-mails were exchanged and lessons learned.
Johnny Dutch was disappointed when his primary event (110mH) was cancelled), takeoff areas were quite slippery from a passing rain and in one event, (Girls 400mH) we had no one to run. It's very tough to cover every event with a team of only 12.
After the meet was the post-meet party. WHAT A PARTY!! Two athletes deserved special mention, Charles Clark and AJ Acosta. Just when things began to sag, they leaped up and took over. From that point on, it was great. They danced, having taken Salsa lessons after dinner two nights earlier, and just had a good time. Clark invented his own style of Salsa leaving his partner, a stunning Puerto Rican, to leave the floor in hysterics.
Everyone got home safely the following day, rather tired but having made a bevy of new friends and experienced new things.
One last story, on our first day I went out to the Beach for a little sun and surf and one of the girls, Katie Veith from Indiana was standing ankle-deep looking seaward. I asked her what she was looking at, she replied, "The ocean, I've never seen an ocean before." That alone was worth the trip.
|THE GIRLS||THE Boys|
|Jessica Beard||AJ Acosta|
|Tressa Beckel||Jack Bolas|
|Shalina Clark||Preston Chatham|
|Emily Bernhardt||Charles Clark|
|Brandi Cross||Johnny Dutch|
|Katie Doswell||Eric Flores|
|Kamorean Hayes||Keith Graham|
|Lindsay Ferguson||Trey Harts|
|Bianca Knight||Gary Jones|
|Karlee Mcquillen||Greg Kelsey|
|Elizabeth Olear||Michael Morrison|
|Danielle Tauro||David Shiedt|
|Katie Vieth||JT Scheuerman|
|Nyeisha Wright||Karjuan Williams|
TEAM NSSF selection was one of the most difficult tasks we faced. There are so many wonderfully talented athletes and only 14 spots for each squad. It's no exaggeration to say there were close to two dozen tentative teams. According to Jim Spier, "We considered a great many athletes for TEAM NSSF but were most familiar with those who competed in both Nike National Championships (Indoor and Outdoor). We got to see them perform and were familiar with their talents 'first hand.'"
Finally, on a personal note, I would like to thank the members of TEAM NSSF. A more selfless bunch I've never seen. Some competed in events for the first time in their careers to help the team; most ran tired but all came through. There will be many other TEAM NSSF's but none could ever be a better group than this first one. THANKS!!
NOTE: The Caribbean Scholastic Invitational (CSI) will be contested in San Juan June 30, 2007. More information will be available later in the year at our website nationalscholastic.org and/or at the Nike Indoor/Outdoor Nationals.