By Karl Himmelmann’s count, there are only about a handful of high schools in Suffolk County that do not run winter track. Mattituck is no longer one of them.
For the first time in school history, the Tuckers have a boys winter track team (as well as one for girls). Himmelmann, who has been an assistant coach for the boys’ spring team for the past four years, is coaching the new boys indoor team.
So, what is it like to be part of a brand new program?
“It’s exciting,” said Himmelmann.
The first practice, however, might have been more concerning than exciting. One of the team’s top athletes, Jack Dufton, recalled that only five athletes participated in that first practice “because not many people knew [the team] existed yet.”
That base was soon expanded as word spread, Dufton said, and “by the third or fourth day, that’s when you realized: ‘Wow! This is going to be a great team.’ ”
Dufton and fellow senior Darius Brew have both been varsity track athletes since they were eighth graders.
Dufton will focus on the 600 meters and the 1,600 in this inaugural season. In the team’s first official competition — a crossover meet at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood on Friday — he finished fourth in the 600 in 1 minute 30 seconds.
Himmelmann is familiar with how hard Dufton pushes himself. “I think his work ethic … has been second to none,” the coach said. “He loves track and he loves to run. He really does everything that he needs to do.”
Mattituck has one of the top high jumpers in the county in Brew. Brew started his season by clearing 6 feet 2 inches on his first attempt at that height on Friday. “And he had room, too,” Himmelmann said. “It wasn’t even that close.”
Brew can also compete in the triple jump, the 300 and the 4×200 relay, but there is no question what his strongest event is.
“He has a natural gift as a high jumper,” Himmelmann said. “His form coming into the high jump, his runups, his form going over the high jump is just outstanding.”
That 4×200 relay is also seen as a team strength. It includes Brew, Dufton, senior Joe Graeb and junior Sean Robbins.
Brew, Dufton and Graeb are the only seniors on the team’s 19-person roster.
Christian Demchak, a freshman, handles long-distance events like the 1,600 and the 3,200, which requires circumnavigating Suffolk County Community College’s 200-meter track 16 times.
A junior, Eshi Baldano, throws the shot put. Two sophomores, Anthony Lopez and Jason Scalia, run the 1,000 and the 1,600.
Winter track offers indoor-only events like the 600 and 1,000, which aren’t run in the spring. Another difference the Tuckers will notice in the winter season is the competition. Unlike the spring, the winter doesn’t offer dual meets. The focus is more on the individual than the team in winter track, and crossover meets involving larger schools are part of it all.
“All these meets are going to be against schools that are top-notch in Suffolk County,” Dufton said. “Always going against the best, so you’re always going to be pushed to the next level.”
It’s a new experience for all the Tuckers, but perhaps even newer for some. About half of the team members have no previous track and field experience at all, yet that didn’t show on Friday, according to Himmelmann.
“They didn’t go into that gym [Friday] like a group of boys who had never done a winter track meet before,” he said. “They knew what they had to do and they got it done.”
Photo caption: Mattituck senior Jack Dufton will focus on the 600 meters and the 1,600 in Mattituck’s inaugural indoor season. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)