NEWPORT–When looking at the 2012 North Country track and field season, the biggest star of the program will not be competing in any of the events.
It will be hosting them.
The brand new facility on the campus of North Country Union High cost over $180,000.00 to build, and everyone I spoke with could not be more thankful to the members of the community that helped make this dream come true.
"The kids are very appreciative. They came with an enthusiasm that I have never seen before, and it just comes from the fact that the whole community values the program, and the sports group as a whole," said coach Gary Johnson.
Said sprint coach Annah Sullivan, "Just looking at the facility this year, the team has more pride for it and we are really excited to host a meet where people will running on an actual track."
"It means a lot. It shows that there are people behind us that want us to do well. We would go to all these other facilities and everyone wanted to compete there, but no one wanted to come here because of the dirt track or whatever, but now we are just as good as everyone else," said Jason Webster.
Coach Lonnie Wade, who has spent his fair share of time at the old track, is very excited with what the future holds and knows just how much effort went into the building of the facility.
"What Gary did with all the organization and what the community did to step and put this all together is phenomenal. We weren't expecting to have this for a couple of years, and one year later here it is.
"A big thanks have to go out to Gary and especially to the community who donated their time, the business', the volunteers that helped raise money, it is just fantastic.
"It's a great place to live, this area, and people stepped up and it means a lot to the kids, and in the end that is what it is all about; the kids."
“It is night and day, and Gary deserves a lot of credit for this, he was the mastermind behind it," added distance coach Tyler Alexander.
"It is like a rebirth of a new team, that is how I think of it," contributed Josh Brien. "It's new, it's amazing and it gives our program a lot of credibility.
One of the most important factors of the new track itself is the ability to have accurate times and distances.
Before adjustments would be made in the times to compensate for the track, but now with a facility equipped with the correct distances for all the running events, a lot of the guess work will be taken out of the process.
Numbers are way up for the Falcons this season, as 67 athletes came out for the team. One could obviously say that the biggest recruiting factor is the facility itself, but coach Johnson knows that there is more behind it.
"We really want to thank Sue Tetreault who runs the summer track program and Steve Farrow who runs the junior high program. We had twenty-seven freshman who came out this year and it's ninety percent due to their efforts for getting the kids interested in track and making them successful so they can come here and continue their career."
Another key to this year's success will be the staff that Johnson has working with him this season.
Lonnie Wade, Peter Oliver, Annah Sullivan, Tyler Alexander, Nick Dinzio and possibly Orla Walsh will be joining Johnson as the coaches that will lead the team in 2012, and Gary could not have been more complimentary towards his staff.
"You have Peter who is a decathlete, you have Annah who is a state champion, Tyler has fifteen years of high level of competition, Lonnie has gone to numerous national clinics, and they know their sport inside and out."
Said Wade, who is one of the veteran coaches with the program, "You are only as strong as your weakest link and we have some very strong links. If it was just Gary and I, these kids would not get the attention they need, so they are fantastic, their good people and they are going to help us immensely."
Last year's sprinters had a great season. The 4x100 team of Brian DeLaBreure, Dylan Colombia, Nick LeClair and Josh Brien took home top honors in the state, but the foursome will not be together this season.
Brian is sidelined with off-season surgery and Nick, as of last Friday, appears to not be competing this spring, so Sullivan is making adjustments.
"We have Josh and Dylan and a few new comers; freshman and some upper classmen that have joined the program that could fill in."
Brien did say that there was a possibility that LeClair could return midway through the season.
In the throwing events, Wade is excited with this season's prospects.
"Last year we sent four boys to the shot-put and discuss finals in Division one, and we can send possibly five, maybe six this year.
“We have some girls like Jenna (Moss) who could do very well this year, plus we also have a great young group, so we have a lot of diversity."
Webster, who took first in discuss and third in shot at the states last year, believes he can have an even better effort this season.
"Obviously I am looking to come back and get first in states again and defend my title. I am looking to get better in shot, but it is what it is. We have a lot of competition this year, but I like it, it makes me work harder," said the senior.
Thanks to the new field, the Falcons are adding the pole vault to their list of events. For years the team sacrificed all of the event's points at their meets, and even if they are not in the top three, the points will go along way into improving their overall scores.
Brien, who will be one of the first time vaulters', on why he made the decision to give it a try said, "Just watching the other kids from the other schools do it, I just wanted to give it a try. So now I can finally do it, so might as well."
Alexander is once again heading up the distance runners, and he sees a bright future for his group.
"We are expecting big things out of four year vet Trevor Howell who will be focusing on the three thousand, trying to set a personal record by breaking ten minutes. If he does that he will be amongst the top guys in the state.
"On the girls side, we have Stephanie Watson and Avery Parsons-Grayson who have been here for four years. Steph will be focusing on the three thousand and she came within two seconds of breaking the school record last year, so she will be gunning for that, and I am sure she can do it.
"Avery will be zoning in on the fifteen-hundred and maybe a leg of the 4x8."
Speaking of the 4x8, Alexander expects his girl's team of Avery, Steph, Lindsay Cotnoir and Haley-Jo Tetreault will be competitive.
All in all you can not help but be excited for this year's season, which was scheduled to commence yesterday at Mount Mansfield, but has been postponed due to weather.
The team will now head to Jericho on Friday to make the event up.
North Country will host their first meet at the new facility on Wednesday April 25th