Every year around this time, Port Jefferson becomes the center of the Suffolk County high school track and field world. Like the swallows to Capistrano, athletes, coaches, officials, spectators and media converge on the scenic waterside village, the home to the Section XI Individual Championships/state qualifier.
I’ve driven this route so often that I could virtually do it with my eyes closed (although I would strongly recommend against that). So, there I was on Friday, headed to Port Jefferson High School for the first day of the two-day meet. Driving north on Route 25A, I made a left onto Liberty Avenue, following it up to Old Post Road before starting to make a right onto Brook Road. It was at that point when a Port Jefferson constable, with a deadly serious look on his face, held up a hand and halted me. After walking over to the passenger’s side door, he asked me, “Where are you going?”
I replied, “To the track meet,” pointing in the direction of the track, which sits alongside Brook Road.
Then, eyeing me suspiciously, as if I was up to no good, he asked me in an unfriendly manner, “Who are you?”
(Welcome to Port Jefferson.)
“I’m a reporter here to cover the track meet,” I told him.
Then, after a few quiet seconds, he directed me to make a right onto the next street up the road and find parking somewhere around there. Brook Road, where track and field visitors have parked their cars for years, was closed. School buses were permitted down the road to drop off athletes and coaches, but that was it. Barriers were erected to keep all others out.
Fine enough. My own speculation is that some Brook Road residents had complained enough that something was done to keep the nuisance of track and field traffic that they experience two days a year off their road — and move it onto the roads of their neighbors.
Port Jefferson has a beautiful track and field facility, probably the best among Suffolk high schools, so it’s no wonder that it hosts this big meet. Parking, however, has always been tricky here. This year, veteran sports photographer Garret Meade said, the parking situation was the worst he had ever seen.
But parking is only one of the challenges to covering this meet. Track meets in general are a three-ring circus, with multiple events going on at the same time.
That’s good and bad for a reporter. The good side is that it means there are multiple opportunities to find stories, whether they be on the track or in the field events. The bad side is trying to keep up with it all. With all of the running, hurdling, jumping, throwing and vaulting going on, one can feel as if he is swirling amid a tornado of activity. Even veterans of track meets can miss things.
Despite trying our best to keep tabs on things, Garret and myself both missed seeing the girls 800-meter final on Friday. We didn’t get to see Shoreham-Wading River senior Shannon McDonnell pull out a thrilling victory in 2 minutes 14.62 seconds. We were in the pole vaulting area at the time, watching Riverhead’s Jonah Spaeth soar to a second-place finish at 14 feet, and a place in the state meet.
On Saturday, we didn’t get to see Bishop McGann-Mercy senior Sasa Vann blaze to victory in the 400-meter final in a school record time of 56.61 seconds. We were watching drama unfold in the triple jump, as two Riverheaders, senior Melodee Riley and sophomore Kyra Braunskill-Miller, landed first and second, respectively. They both will compete in the state meet.
We nearly missed the boys 1,600-meter final, only catching the last lap of that race when Garret alertly noticed that it was being run. We were focused on the boys discus up to then.
The bottom line is you’re going to miss something at a track meet. With multiple events going on at the same time, it’s bound to happen. And that’s even with the wonderful new smartphone app offered by www.just-in-time-racing.com that provides real-time results of events as they are completed (it’s a must-have at 99 cents for high school track aficionados). A person has only two eyes and two legs.
Of course, that means there’s a lot to see. A big track meet like this is an adventure.
Parking in Port Jefferson can be one, too.