One student’s dedication helps make new track a reality in Mattituck

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11/09/2013 12:00 PM |

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Mattituck High School senior Kyle Freudenberg, right, and PTA vice president Jeanine Warns shortly after the bond vote passed. Both have rallied community support for a new track.

Kyle Freudenberg is known throughout her school as “the track girl” — and not just because she competes on the track team.

Since eighth grade, the 17-year-old Mattituck High School senior has campaigned for a new track to replace the school’s aging track, a dusty, bumpy cinder circuit that’s been deemed unsafe for home meets.

After researching Suffolk Times video and articles about the track’s condition, Kyle’s determination to convince the school and community to replace the track strengthened. Her commitment to the effort began to creep into her classwork, surfacing in debating exercises and a mock letter to the editor assignment that was eventually published in the paper.

In ninth grade, Kyle began attending school board meetings when she saw the track discussion on the agenda. Finally, during an August 2013 meeting, the school board voted in favor of putting a $925,000 track bond proposition before district voters.

Kyle said she was ecstatic about the news and worked to rally support for the bond by contacting parents she met over the summer while she volunteered as a soccer coach.

The days leading up to the Oct. 22 vote found Kyle feverishly emailing and texting parents and teachers who live in the district. She plastered fliers around the office at Strong’s Marine, where she works part-time, detailing the track bond proposal. She also created a Facebook event to promote the vote, explaining how the track could improve the community’s quality of life.

“I felt the ‘no’ votes would definitely show up and we just needed the ‘yes’ votes to get there,” she recalled during an interview this week. “Everyone was like, ‘We get the point, Kyle’ and people would start telling me, ‘Don’t worry, Kyle. My whole family will be there voting.’ ”

All of Kyle’s hard work — along with that of other community members who have rallied for a new track for nearly two decades — ultimately paid off. The track bond proposal passed by a vote of 777 to 386, including about 200 newly registered voters.

Cutchogue East Elementary School parent and PTA vice president Jeanine Warns said she and a group of parents purchased yellow “vote yes” lawn signs to raise awareness that the community could benefit from a new track, too.

“The time was right,” Ms. Warns said when asked why she believes the bond passed. “There has been a lot of people working on this for the past 15 to 20 years. The community supported it and most of the school board was open to it.”

School board vice president Charlie Anderson and retired Mattituck coach Jim Underwood were a part of the original group rallying support for a new track.

Mr. Anderson said he began supporting the cause after his son, Scott, now 26, competed in track.

“As the school has been modernized, it seems the track was always neglected, even though a lot of students went out for track,” he said. “I’m glad it passed and am looking forward to seeing it done.”

Track has gained in popularity in recent years. School officials have said nearly 15 percent of the high school’s 800 students participate in track.

Several years ago, Mr. Anderson helped form a group called Mattitrack. They hosted the community’s first Turkey Trot and held several other fundraisers for a new track. But Mattitrack was only able to generate $15,000 after numerous events and folded within a year.

Mr. Underwood, who retired in 2010, said the track’s original coal cinders were provided by LILCO (now LIPA) and the rocky surface proved to be most difficult to practice on, especially during hurdle races.

“As a coach, I was always known as the guy who had the only cinder track on Long Island,” Mr. Underwood said. “It was cute, but it got annoying when people would ask ‘When are you getting a track?’ ’’

Mr. Underwood said the rocks were removed in the 1990s and the track has remained in its dirt form since then.

“Even though a new track didn’t happen during my time there, I think it’s a good step forward for the North Fork,” he said about the bond passing.

Ms. Warns said she’s pleased the bond passed by a nearly 2 to 1 margin and believes a new track will open a “floodgate” of new opportunities, including a school marching band, breast cancer awareness walks and other community events.

Mattituck athletic director Gregg Wormuth agreed, saying he believes the bond’s passage was the result of the school board, administration and community working together.

In recent years, he said, Mattituck has competed in a league with Babylon, and Greenport high schools and The Ross School, which also lack competition-level tracks.

During track season, the teams compete together three times in either Southampton, Westhampton or Center Moriches, he said.

“I think the most exciting part of having a new track is getting to see our students compete on their own turf,” Mr. Wormuth said. “They’ve never competed among their peers. Some of their peers have never seen a track meet. It’s an opportunity for them to show what it is they do.”

Mr. Wormuth said all students in grades K-12 will have an opportunity to use the track during physical education. In addition, NJROTC students and all student athletes will be allowed to use the facility, as will as community members when school isn’t in session.

Officials have estimated the cost of installing a new all-weather polyflex track over the existing surface at about $675,000. The remainder of the bond will go toward purchasing portable bleachers and irrigation upgrades ($50,000), sport netting ($40,000), sidewalks ($15,000) and asbestos remediation work inside the school ($25,000). The proposal also includes a $120,000 contingency budget.

Construction is expected to start in June. Officials estimate it will take about three months to complete.

Kyle, who hopes to attend Villanova University after graduation, said that although she won’t get an opportunity to compete on the new track as a high school athlete, she has no regrets about the time and effort she put into getting the bond passed.

“I wanted to finish what I started,” she said. “Wherever I am, I’ll be back to see it finished.”

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