|Wednesday, 25 July 2012 15:05|
BY CHUCK SLATER
The young man, all of 10½ years old, stared down the track at the hurdles ahead of him. They were 2½ feet tall, more than half his own height. He glanced at the teenager coaching him, then sped toward the formidable obstacles.
And Dominic Zeltri of Somers cleared the hurdles cleanly as Alex Mattos, 16 and a track champion at Somers High, cheered him on.
“He did it very well,” Mattos, a rising senior, said afterward.
They were at the Somers Youth Track Program at Somers High School, which finishes up a twice-a-week, six-week evening run on Aug. 2. Sponsored and funded by the Taconic Road Runners, it serves almost 500 boys and girls, from incoming kindergartners to early high school age with anywhere from 250 to 400 turning out on any night for fun and instruction.
Coaches, volunteers, parents and from 30 to 40 accomplished high school athletes are annually involved as instructors in the 6-7:30 p.m. sessions. Up to 60 turn out for the kids at each of them.
“With Taconic’s help, the whole thing works,” said Roy Arnesen, the head boys track coach at Somers High.
According to Rich Nash of the Road Runners, the program’s overall director, helping the youngsters this season are 26 coaches, 27 junior coaches, 35 high school students and 10 administrators, of which Arnesen is one.
And on this night, Mattos’s advice was working for his young pupil. The high schooler`s own love of both the sport and hurdling clearly came through.
“He understands if I can’t do something,” Zeltri said. “He basically was showing me how to spring off and lift.
“I want to stay fit and active and I like the challenge of the event.”
Zeltri’s older sister Nicole is a league-champion 5-foot high jumper for Somers.
Mattos, who gave up football in the ninth grade to devote all his sports energies to track and field, is sold on the sport he embraced in the seventh grade.
“Track and field is a lot of you against yourself,” he said.
“What you put into it is what you get out. Work hard and you go faster and higher.”
Mattos is a 6-foot high jumper – his favorite event – and the League 1B South and county champion in that event. He is also the league champion in the 110 high hurdles and the pentathlon, where he finished third in the Class B sectional championship last May.
“We expect him to be even better this season,” said Arnesen. “He could well make states in the pentathlon. He’s a very hard worker, very focused, which makes him able to practice multiple events.
“And he’s a very good technician, which helps him work with kids in the summer.”
“He’s one of our most enthusiastic volunteers,” praised Nash.
In Zeltri, Mattos found an apt pupil. “He’s very comfortable with the hurdles, not scared,” Mattos said of the 10-year-old. “A lot of the kids are scared.”
To alleviate fear and possible injury, the kids start hurdling over “banana hurdles,” rubbery, easily-bent challenges. Zeltri, however, had moved up to real hurdles – “the smallest actual hurdles,” he said proudly.
The program also teaches the javelin throw with rubber missiles in the interests of safety – all paid for and provided by the Road Runners.
“My wife Joanna and I started the program 12 years ago,” said Nash. “Not only does it get the kids out moving in the summer, but it also develops rapport between and (volunteer) parent.”
And when the summer run ends, Taconic offers three scholarships to high school and college volunteers.
The program offers two practice meets during its season in which the 50, 100, 400, 800 and low hurdles are run and competition in the high jump, long jump, pole vault, javelin and shot put are staged.
And the 12-year-old Nash brainchild is still growing.
“The program’s turnouts are getting larger and larger the last few years,” Arnesen reported.