Year in Sports : Phasing out: SU sees decline in field team without facilities, specialized coach

first_imgFrank Taylor makes it a point to wear a certain shirt to many of his track and field meets. It’s a white, cotton long-sleeve shirt with the word ‘Field’ in orange lettering across the chest.It’s a shirt from a different era, when the field program was large in numbers and its presence was well known. Back when Taylor was a freshman.Currently a junior, the long jumper still dons the shirt. Taylor takes pride in the shirt, and it serves as a reminder.‘We sort of make an effort to wear those T-shirts still at meets and stuff and say, ‘We still have our field team left going here. We still have great field athletes,” Taylor said. ‘We can still make some great gains in our last few years here and at a minimum we can say we did everything we could to keep our field team alive for the last moment.’Though that last moment hasn’t come yet, the number of field athletes on the Syracuse track and field team has dwindled rapidly, leaving the Orange with its lowest numbers in more than a decade. What was once a major part of the program has become a running joke between athletes at how limited field events are. With a shift in direction under head coach Chris Fox to focus on long-distance running, former and current SU athletes question where the field team is headed into the future.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textTwo seasons ago, the Orange had 22 field athletes, and it had 18 last year, according to the SU Athletics rosters. This year, there are only nine. Adam Harris, a former SU football player, was a late addition and freshman Klarrisa Ricks transferred to Syracuse after one semester at Columbia.SU assistant coach Dave Hegland said the low numbers are no secret.The decline has been caused by a combination of factors, including graduations, transfers and athletes who quit the program. Taylor said the drop in numbers resulted from the departure of former SU field coach, Enoch Borozinski, and the eradication of the team’s facilities after a renovation to Manley Field House in summer 2010.After the renovations, the facility no longer had jumping pits.‘I don’t think field is something that is really high on their priority considering the coaching staff and the facilities,’ said former heptathlon athlete Kelsey Rubeor, who left the team with one more year of eligibility.SU Athletic Director Daryl Gross points to the program’s success since Fox took over in 2005.‘Our track and field teams are enjoying the greatest success in the history of the program and are among the best in the country,’ Gross said in a statement. ‘We will continue to emphasize our strengths and give attention to our extraordinary athletes in other events. Coach Chris Fox has proven this to be very effective as his teams have won six NCAA regional team championships in the last three years.’All those NCAA Regional Championships are in cross country.While Gross claims the department will continue to give attention to athletes on the field team, former field athletes said the department and program did little to support them.Tara Brenner, a former pole vaulter who quit the team at the start of this school year, said she felt let down by the SU athletic department.Brenner and other pole vaulters didn’t get to pole vault at practice until December by going to other schools. When she approached Gross, he suggested pole vaulters practice outside year-round.‘(Gross) basically came up to me and said, ‘Can’t we just have you warm up inside and use all that nice Nike gear and you know stay warm and then jump outside,” Brenner said.‘You’re trying to grip onto a small pole and that doesn’t work when you have freezing temperatures,’ she added.Brenner said even when it was warm outside, there were still liability issues to set up pits because the team didn’t have a coach with the credentials to supervise pole vaulting.Gross wasn’t made available for additional comment through the athletic department and calls to his cellphone weren’t returned.There are no pole vaulters or high jumpers currently on the team. Syracuse competed in field events, including the long jump, triple jump, heptathlon and throwing events in 2012.But former jumper Aubree Mercure said those field events take a backseat to long-distance running in the program.Mercure quit at the end of the last year. She felt neglected, she said, as Fox never showed the concern necessary for field athletes.Mercure also said the coaching wasn’t as effective after Borozinski left the program. Hegland assumed his role.Under Hegland, Mercure said she only got worse. She said she didn’t get the attention she needed to improve.‘I was just kind of winging it, and the coach didn’t really pay much attention,’ Mercure said. ‘Like clearly in practices he’d be paying most of his attention to sprinters, like what he knew about.’While Mercure questioned Hegland’s ability to coach the field team, Fox backs up what Hegland has done since taking on the extra responsibility. He called Hegland a student of the sport and the best 31-year-old track and field coach in the country.‘I feel real comfortable and real proud of what people like Frank, and Kelsey and Ieva (Staponkute) and Will (Watson) have done,’ Hegland said. ‘And whether or not they would do better somewhere else, how can you answer that?’Borozinski, the former SU field coach, also said Hegland is a capable coach. For someone who coaches hurdles, it’s easy to also coach events like the triple and long jumps. Borozinski said the transition made after he left couldn’t have gone any smoother.But he also said Hegland has a lot on his plate, coaching sprinters, hurdlers and the field team. Borozinski said it is unfortunate some of the athletes feel they aren’t receiving what they feel is adequate attention.Once Borozinski left, he said he wasn’t sure if a coach would replace him, but assumed the university would hire a restricted-earnings coach or a graduate assistant to specialize in certain field events.Bernard Bush, a former field athlete at SU, was a graduate assistant under Fox last year, but Mercure said Bush’s academic studies kept him occupied much of the time.Fox said not everyone is going to find success, especially in a program with more than 80 athletes. ‘Lots of things don’t work in life,’ Fox added. ‘I have kids on my cross country team that doesn’t always work for. That’s life. Everything doesn’t work for everybody.’For current athletes, there are also obstacles to overcome.Junior Erica Belanger, who is the only SU athlete who competes in the heptathlon, a two-day event, said it can be lonely and tough to stay motivated at times. And athletes still don’t practice with any traditional pits. Taylor said the team goes to additional meets to get more practice.Back when the school had adequate facilities at Manley, the program emphasized field events, sprints and hurdles. When Borozinski first started, it was under former head coach Andrew Roberts. During that time, Borozinski said he had a good ‘chunk of change’ to work with.When Roberts resigned in May 2005 and Fox was hired, the program’s focus shifted. The scholarships designated for field athletes declined, Borozinski said. By the time he left, his scholarships were down to ‘almost nothing.’John Moon, Seton Hall’s cross country head coach, said it’s not easy to have three strong facets of a track and field program, especially at private schools in the Northeast.His track and field program was cut in February 2010.‘It’s very difficult to maintain a high-quality field team, a high-quality track team and cross country,’ Moon said. ‘That is rough.’Fox said the first thing Gross told him is he wanted a top-25 cross country program, which Syracuse accomplished. In track, Jarret Eaton won the 2012 NCAA 60-meter hurdle championship, coached by Hegland. Eaton is the first individual athlete at Syracuse to win a national championship.Certain field athletes, although there are only a few, have also shown strides in their performance. It’s a result that surprised even Taylor.‘I was shocked. My improvement has been unfathomable to me,’ Taylor said. ‘I never would have thought that I would have improved 3 feet in the course of two years, especially after my field coach left I thought my career was over.’ Taylor credits his success to Hegland, and the idea that Hegland was open to suggestions coaching the long jump.Taylor used to be a decathlete, but once Borozinski left and the necessary facilities no longer existed at SU, Hegland and Taylor sat down to talk about his next move with the Orange.‘It’s a pretty remarkable story to me with a guy who went from being just kind of frankly a mediocre decathlete as a freshman to somebody who’s really an outstanding long jumper right now,’ Hegland said.Fox admits SU is never going to have high numbers in field athletes. The focus of the program lies in long distance. He said the team is actively recruiting athletes in the long jump, but he didn’t say how many.Hegland said some jumpers are involved in other events, like sprints or hurdles, and others are ‘pure jumpers.’Fox said Gross told him if he found a quality pole vaulter, the department would provide for that athlete.‘Whatever Dave would like to recruit, he’s welcome to coach and that’s his area,’ Fox said. ‘And all I encourage him to do is do really well at what he does. And right now he chooses to do really well in the sprints and the hurdles.’Hegland said he thinks SU will continue to have excelling horizontal jumpers.Some aren’t as sure that’s the case. Belanger, the heptathlon athlete, said she thinks the major drop off has occurred and from here it might go down a little more.Five years down the road, Brenner believes the field program will be nonexistent.Fox said the downsize isn’t a conscious plan either way, and the program is focused on getting the best athletes while giving coaches the best chance to compete on a national level.But Rubeor thinks field events are clearly not part of that equation.‘I mean, it’s a no brainer. You essentially take out 70-75 percent of our facilities and don’t hire a field coach. You don’t really have to say much,’ Rubeor said. ‘Your actions pretty much speak for themselves.’dgproppe@syr.edu Published on April 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm Commentscenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more

The lessons of Allen Griffin, Syracuse’s newest assistant coach

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on November 1, 2017 at 12:12 am Contact Sam: sjfortie@syr.edu | @Sam4TR The professor strode into Syracuse’s practice unannounced, and Allen Griffin knew he was in trouble.It was fall 1997 and Griffin, a freshman from Brownsville, Brooklyn, watched Marlene Blumin approach Bernie Fine, whom she knew as a former classmate and Griffin knew as his head coach’s lieutenant. Griffin remembered Fine looking around until he saw Griffin looking back at him. Fine extended a pointer finger and beckoned. Come here now.Griffin trudged over, and, once he was within reach, Fine put his hand on the back of Griffin’s head. In that moment, Griffin regretted not paying the proper respect to Blumin’s warning: Turn in your homework or I’ll come get it. Fine glared at Griffin as the point guard stammered through an explanation. In his next College Learning Strategies class, Griffin handed in his assignment.“That established that I cared about him,” Blumin said recently. “After that, back then, he would come (into my office) if he felt lonesome.”This spring, two unrelated things happened to make Griffin’s return to Syracuse as an assistant coach possible. Within a week in late March, longtime SU assistant Mike Hopkins departed to become the head coach at Washington and then Griffin’s boss at Dayton, Archie Miller, left for Indiana. This put Griffin in limbo, until Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim called. Griffin had tried to become a Syracuse assistant before, serving as the team’s director of basketball operations from 2003 to 2005, but Boeheim had recommended gaining assistant coaching experience elsewhere first.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textIn early April, Griffin replaced Hopkins as the big-man coach and understood the significance of joining a staff of alumni helmed by a 42-year head coach that had been a core for six straight seasons. Those relationships, like with Boeheim; fellow assistants Adrian Autry and Gerry McNamara; and Blumin, drew Griffin back to Syracuse. Coming into the fold, Griffin said, gives him “the opportunity to walk around with a little swag.” Taking this job, said his brother, Anthony Griffin, allowed him to share as a coach the lessons he learned as a player.“I grew into a man here,” Griffin said. “(Syracuse) put a lot of things into perspective in terms of life for me. The relationships I built here…” He trailed off.“I’ll be honest, I thank God every day that I’m back, and I’m not a Christian.”Andy Mendes | Digital Design EditorCoaching big men hasn’t bothered Griffin though he never was one himself. He felt like a coach on the floor in college and then, at Dayton, coaches worked with every position.“Everybody makes a big deal about working with big guys,” Boeheim said. “The best guy I ever worked with at big guys was Pete Newell, he was a guard. He was the best big-guy coach that I’ve ever seen. Mike Hopkins was a guard, he was a great big-guy coach. Bernie Fine was a great big-guy coach. He didn’t play basketball. It’s kind of a myth to think, ‘Well you have to be big to coach big guys.’ I did it when I was here.“It’s like you’ve got to be a bird to jump out of a plane.”When Syracuse hired Griffin, he thought he would have three big men, but Taurean Thompson, the only one of the group who has played in an Atlantic Coast Conference game, transferred to Seton Hall. Griffin had looked forward to working with Thompson, because he had watched nearly all of Syracuse’s games from the season before and had seen the offensive potential. Now, Syracuse’s big men are the most unproven part of its roster, and the Orange will rely on Griffin to bring the unit along.One of the first things Griffin did after he got the job was take his two remaining players — redshirt junior Paschal Chukwu and freshman Bourama Sidibe — out for pizza so they got to know each other. At first, they were both quiet, but as Griffin watched Sidibe and Chukwu in the gym they were “better than expected,” he said. In his fourth season, Chukwu seemed naturally more at ease in the college game than first-year Sidibe, who was more “wide-eyed.” Yet Sidibe’s athleticism and dunking ability has impressed Griffin and bolstered optimism in Boeheim’s plan to use each 20 minutes per game.Going out for pizza, to Griffin, symbolized the way he’d always done things. The ability to cajole teammates and players stuck out to Griffin’s former teammates, and it doesn’t surprise his brother. As long as Anthony has known his brother, he’s seen him connect and communicate with other family members as well as he has with strangers who approach him when he’s out in town.Recently, as the brothers ate together at one Griffin’s favorite spots in Syracuse, Attilio’s Restaurant, a fan mistook Anthony for his brother and gushed about how great it was having him back as a coach. The brothers played along for a few minutes before Allen, laughing, explained the mix-up.When Griffin was a point guard, he sensed the differing needs of his big men Billy Celuck and Jeremy McNeill, so he tailored his approach to each player. Sometimes he went out for a beer or two with Celuck, because he knew that’s what Celuck liked to do. He gave mostly encouragement to McNeill, whom Griffin sensed was hesitant to trust.“C’mon big Perm,” Griffin said quietly to McNeill when the team needed him.“Me being a point guard,” Griffin said, “I had to learn how to deal with different personalities at one time (with Celuck and McNeill). I use that now to this day, especially with (Chukwu and Sidibe). … I’ve had a lot of hands-on training with centers, and the one thing I learned is this: They’re big gentle giants and you got to show them love, but you also got to put your foot up their butt if you need to.”When Griffin criticizes Chukwu or Sidibe, he always tries to do so in a quieter voice, so they understand he wants them to get better and he’s not just yelling out of anger. He takes the same approach with his two sons, 18-year-old A.J. and 7-year-old Trey. And now, Griffin wants to be there for his players like those who were there for him when he was a student.When he came to Syracuse, it was the first extended time away from his grandmother, who raised him because he hadn’t known his father and his mother died when he was about 7 years old. Griffin often went to Blumin’s office to talk throughout college. When his role on the team grew as a sophomore. When he was benched as a junior. When he started every game as a senior.One day during that time, Griffin walked into Blumin’s office and sat on a chair that was next to a sofa. He picked up the Whee-lo, his favorite toy of the collection Blumin kept to help calm those who came to see her, the one where magnets inside a red plastic wheel propel it along two sides of a U-shaped metal track, in a way that sort of looks like gravity.As Griffin spun the wheel back and forth, Blumin continued typing on her computer. Students often wandered in and out, so a few minutes passed before she looked up at Griffin. Then, she saw tears streaming down his face. She walked over, sat on the sofa and asked what was wrong. He couldn’t remember his mother’s voice. They sat together for a while in silence until Blumin suggested Griffin call his grandmother.Last year, Blumin retired from SU. While cleaning out her office, she called several former students to see if they wanted anything. When she reached Griffin, he knew immediately.Blumin boxed up the Whee-lo and addressed the package to Dayton, Ohio. A few days later, Griffin ripped open the package, sat down and spun the toy, he said, for the better part of two to three days. Then he put it on his desk and, as players visited his office throughout the season, some picked it up as they talked. Griffin hasn’t yet brought the Whee-lo to his new office, with its high glass windows overlooking the Melo Center. For now, he keeps it at his apartment, but it’ll be ready for anyone who might be in need. Commentslast_img read more

Kwesi Appiah primed for Brazaville test

first_imgGhana assistant coach Kwesi Appiah admits the coaching staff has to work hard at keeping Black Stars players focused on their Nations Cup qualifier against Congo as the hype around the friendly international against England dominates the front pages.Appiah will travel with coach Goran Stevanovic and the rest of the technical team to Nairobi on Sunday for training with the players ahead of their Group I Nations Cup qualifier against Congo in Brazzaville on March 27th.And Appiah is in no doubt what the priority will be. “The public talk may be that of the friendly, but it is our job as the technical team to keep reminding the players during the training period that the three points are far more crucial than anything.“We will be building team spirit and working on our approach for the Congo game but reminding them of how important it is will be a part of it.”Appiah knows that Brazzaville game has major implications for the Ghana and is delighted with the form of many key players in the build up to that.“It is important that Tagoe is scoring goals, and many of the players are in good form so it bodes well for us.” He is also pleased with the inclusion of young players like David Addy, Daniel Opare and Nathaniel Asamoah and says the competition their presence brings in the national team is good.“The coach is keen to give as many players as possible the opportunity and I think calling up Opare and Asamoah proves that. Asamoah’s case shows that if you do well, you can get your chance at the high level.“Sometimes you don’t call players to necessarily play them but you call players to give them a feel of what it is like to be in that sort of environment and being there will benefit all of them massively.”Source: Michael Oti Adjei/Kickoff.comlast_img read more