By Caroline Weinberg
At 8:30 a.m. on March 24, the South campus was abuzz with energy anomalous for a Saturday morning. Members of the track team and volunteers diligently bustled around the nearly empty field area like blue and orange worker ants. Near the bleachers, Coach Damon Reader dictated instructions to a growing crowd of newcomers. At the east end of the track, helpers placed cones around a menacing crevice. Students clustered at the west end, ready to move the high jump mat and set up the high jump bar. Others assembled tables, prepared the loudspeaker in the press box, or readied the concession stand. Then, members of the Port Washington track team began to straggle down the hill. The seventh annual Bob Baratta Classic was about to begin.
The meet was a success for South runners from start to finish. When the first gunshot of the day resonated through the mild air, seniors Aron B. and Nicholas Ross took off to lead the pack of Steeple Chase 3000 runners. After steadily putting ground between himself and the rest of the field in the first six laps, Aron began kicking with a lap and a half to go, shaking off a runner from Herricks. He finished in first place with a time of 10:22.6, 13.0 seconds faster than the second place competitor.
Many other runners from South placed, too, including junior Samuel S., in third place for the 800, junior Hannah Siegel, in sixth place for the 1500, junior Allison Ehrlich, in fifth place for the Steeple Chase 2000, and senior Taylor Williams, in fifth place for both the 200 and the 800. South was also heavily represented among the field event winners; senior Danny Mathew came in fifth place in both shot put and discus, senior Dorin Rusu came in first place in high jump, senior Jocelyn Harris came in first place for shot put and discus, and sophomore Victoria Hsiao came in third place for long jump.
To ensure that the meet ran smoothly, preparations commenced early. Mr. Reader scheduled the annual invitational over a year in advance. The day before the meet, the track team had a meeting to discuss organization. Hurdle crews and steeple crews, complete with crew chiefs, were established to expedite the set-up and removal of hurdles and steeples between races. Mr. Reader said, “It means a lot to see the students taking care of the hurdles, setting up the events, cleaning the facilities at the end, and offering us help in any way.”
The Bob Baratta Classic was intended not only to promote athletic endeavors but also to foster the values of Mr. Bob Baratta, who worked at South from 1963 to 1995. To encourage this, Mr. Reader created the Bob Baratta award—an honor presented to a student who, “exhibits great leadership, dedication, and commitment to athletics.” This year, the award was given to senior Taylor Williams. She said, “I started to cry even before the announcer started talking about me…I’m so thankful to my coach and to all of those who’ve been with me along the way, supporting me.”
Tradition is another aspect central to the meet. “The meet is much more than simply a track meet. It is a reminder of our great school’s past and acts as a bridge to the incredible future,” said Mr. Reader. Alumni from various graduating classes attended the meet, and many reminisced with Mr. Reader and Mr. Baratta. Junior Hannah Siegel said, “Bob Baratta is always a meet I look forward to. It’s such a great tradition in our school.”
To many, the meet is special because it embodies the aspects of athletics that transcend physical activity. Mr. Reader said, “Being involved in athletics is only partly about sports. It is really about community, relationships, and shared memories. This is really what the Bob Baratta was intended to be, and I feel that is what it is all about.”