By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
When indoor track got moved to the “Fall II” season, it led to a myriad of changes and issues for coaches and athletes, ranging from dealing with the weather (while still called indoor track, all events were held outdoors) to losing athletes to football, which suddenly found itself in the same season as indoor track for the first time.
After having previewed the season with him a few weeks ago, now four games into the season, we reached back out to Walpole Coach Corey Coogan to see if the season went how he expected, if anything surprised him, and how he expected to transition into the spring track season.
1-3 with two closes losses to start the season before beating Framingham, Coach Coogan said that what most surprises him was a decidedly positive thing: how well his young athletes have been competing.
“We’ve had some younger guys step up,” he explained. “That would probably be the biggest surprise is just as a group, we’ve kind of taken on the challenge of a new type of season and are kind of running with it and continuing to improve every day.”
When asked who he specifically was looking at, he pointed to a trio of distance runners: Bobby Millett, Scotty Cameron and freshman Sean Kerin, about whom he said: “We have some guys that are kind of coming on and doing varsity events for the first time, and so I’m pretty happy with the way a lot of those guys have developed and continue to develop as we approach the end of Fall II and the beginning of spring.”
As for the upperclassmen who have stood out to him, Coogan pointed to Robert Sacrimona’s five-ten high jump, as well as Will Connors, who “cleared six feet for the first time in our program for, like, a decade,” while also acknowledging hurdler Dallin Byerly.
One thing people would think would be a huge issue in running events were the masks, but Coogan explained kids (and teachers, which he is) have become so accustomed to it that both the masks and the social distancing rules really weren’t a big deal.
“As far as, like, mask wearing and social distancing, I think our student athletes and us as coaches, it’s become so normalized to us. It’s obviously had an impact because the way the meets are set up is a little bit different, and there are no big meets at this point, but as far as from a coaching and training standpoint, it really hasn’t been huge. It’s become such a normal thing that I don’t think it was a humongous challenge over the course of this Fall II season.”
While the masks and distancing aren’t going anywhere, Coogan did have high hopes that one of the COVID restrictions would be loosened. That would be the current competitive system, where athletes don’t get to compete in large meets against the best athletes in the state, instead having to compete exclusively against conference foes.
“It looks like we’re going to have some kinds of invitationals coming back,” he explained, “and that we’re going to have divisional coming back. It looks like they’ll try to do a Bay State Conference meet for the spring, so it looks like from a meet standpoint, things are going to start lessening a bit. What we’re really looking forward to is it going back to a statewide competition rather than just a conference-wide competition. It’s been fantastic being able to get athletes back out there within our division, but I think our guys miss being able to go to an invitational and compete against the rest of the state rather than just their conference, and it looks like we’re trending in that direction.”
Coogan often noted he was hoping to get the number of athletes on the team up, which may seem odd, given how difficult it is to make sure large groups of kids are properly socially distancing and wearing their masks during this pandemic era. But Coogan explained that he feels the pod system they created has been working, that track tends to be naturally split into event groups anyway, and that the best programs in the state tend to have between 80 and 120 athletes. Most of all, though, he pointed to track's inclusivity - especially compared to other sports that cut massive amounts of players every tryout and have players exclusively confined to the bench - as his favorite aspect.
“The one amazing thing about track is that everyone is welcome. It’s open to everyone - it’s a no cut sport, and we’re looking for all sorts of athletes. We offer so much for so many types of athletes, and every single meet we go to, we have a varsity and a JV in the same meet. Everyone is participating, and we’re not excluding anyone. It’s not like other sports, where you have kids who never get off the bench.”
What’s Coogan’s pitch to kids ho may be hesitant to join the Walpole Track Program? Essentially that they’re a group that works hard, but has fun.
“Despite all the COVID restrictions, we’re a team that has a lot of heart and a lot of energy. And it has fun. And that’s a big part of it as well, is that we’re out there working hard and getting better every day, but at the same time, we’re enjoying what we’re doing as a group and as a team and being supportive. I think those are all pieces of a successful track program.”