Turning a fair to middling athletic program into a preeminent one is a difficult task for any coach in any sport. Doing so in what some refer to as a non-core sport like track and field is even more daunting.
While sports like football, basketball, lacrosse, and baseball are more likely to garner recognition at Long Island high schools, the track and field athletes wear their school colors with pride and certainly deserve equal respect.
At West Hempstead, hard work, focus, and commitment has led to a new culture on the track surface. The second place finish by the Rams at the recent Division 4A Championships at Seaford High School, their best showing in over a decade, was another testament to their rise from mediocrity. The team set four school records at the meet.
Coach Nick DiBenedetto believes the sky is the limit for his program. “It’s been a steady climb each year over the past three seasons,” DiBenedetto said. “This has been the strongest year thus far. Our numbers keep increasing. This was the first season where we had someone entered in every event. We want to build a solid program like they’ve done at other schools.”
Jaden Mason had a breakout season. At the divisional meet, the sophomore speedster finished second in the 200 meters with a time of 23.10, and third in the 100 meters at 11.20.
Mason followed up the performance by running a personal best 22.47 in the 200 meters at the Bulldog Invitational at Hewlett High School. The time met the qualifying standard for the state title meet. He also runs the anchor leg for the 4x100 meter relay team which is composed of Mason, Raymond Canelo, Jordan DeJesus, and Cameron Phillips.
Sophomore Olowadolapo Babalola earned the division title in the 110 high hurdles with a personal best 16.00, and finished third in the high jump. Babalola finished either first or second in the 110 HH in every varsity meet he competed in this spring.
Eric Anderson, another member of the Class of 2021 with a big upside, was dominant in the 400 intermediate hurdles all season long. Anderson captured the division crown with a personal best time of 1:00.40. He also ran a leg for a 4x800 meter relay team that finished second in the divisional meet.
Sophomore Rommel Quijada threw the discus for the first time in his life this spring and just kept getting better. Quijada’s throw of 102’ 2” was good enough for second place at the divisional meet.
DiBenedetto, who is quick to credit coach Colin Grey, is proud of his team. “The biggest part is building the culture,” DiBenedetto said. “This is a young group that is just learning what a track and field team is all about. They’ve completely bought into the program, and now they’re seeing the results. I want to be able to bring participants to the state meet every year.”