Syosset coach Bart Sessa is one of the most well-known and revered coaches in the area. He led the Braves' boys team to 10 consecutive Section 8 cross country championships from 1996-2006. Sessa also guided Syosset to an indoor national record in the 4x800 at New Balance Collegiate Invitational at the Armory in 2005.
ArmoryTrack.com caught up with Sessa for this edition of the Coaches Corner.
AT: Briefly describe your coaching philosophy.
BS: Long Term Development and development of the entire body, We hope kids are with us for four years and we do all we can to keep them healthy and steadily improving. We are very proud that our athletes continue to produce personal bests Senior year and in championship season and many kids run in college and beyond. (I have been fortunate over the past few years to be working with the girls team, in addition to my official duties as the boys coach, and they too have improved senior year!!!)
AT: What’s one of your staple workouts and why do you do it?
BS: A basic week for us is based upon long (relative term) steady mileage. We average 55-60 miles a week for the varsity boys and girls. Within the week we do three "workouts". Generally a long run (11-12 miles) a tempo run (20-25 minutes) and intervals (4*1200 or 5*1000) or a race. We also will include 2 morning runs of 30 minutes, the day after of the workout days. No secret workouts of course, consistency through the season, year and career.
AT: How do you decide your race schedule?
BS: We have cut back our race schedule tremendously. When I started coaching, I believed you were not coaching unless you raced every weekend (plus our regular dual meet schedule). I spent many Saturday-Sunday doubles in the Armory for 4-5 weeks in a row. Yes, the kids do run well off of enthusiasm and passion, but that can only take you so far. Now we try to race as little as possible to get the kids ready for championship season. (5 hard primary distance races per season is all I believe that I can get out of the kids). They need to be sharp and focused in championship season. The past few years we would race one invite in September (Ocean State has been the race of choice) and two in October (This year it was the Reebok Manhattan Invite and a difficult league meet), than we follow the Nassau Championship Schedule.
AT: What would you say is your biggest challenge as a head coach??
BS: Working in an affluent Long Island School District challenges include 1. Getting kids out. We have at least a High School Varsity, JV and Freshman team and two middle school (many times four) teams for every sport. Kids love games, it is hard to sell distance running when you can put a team jersey on!! 2. Keeping kids. We get many athletes who can't continue because of the academic pressures and goals created by them and their families. We have a wonderful array of clubs and after school activities to participate in.
AT: You are the co-director of The Running School, which has become a summer home for training among Long Island cross country runners. How did that start? How has it grown since?
BS: Al Berkowsky started with a dream in 1971 and 20 boys from Long Island. Over the next 35 years he built a great camp. He made it much more than a running camp, he created a family. The family grew into the premier running clinic and camp in the country (yes, I am biased, but I have heard that from many of our visitors and staff). Running is just a small part, it is a school, that truly teaches athletes and coaches alike about all the subtle nuances our sport entails. Each athletes learns from our staff in all aspects including stretching, strengthening, health and nutrition, core development, form and technique, water workouts, visualization, we even have small group classes on college recruiting, the female triad. Our staff is comprised of some of the top coaches in the country. We feature Jim and Phil Wharton and the internationally renown Wharton Performance group, some of the most influential athletes and clinicians. My partner Sean Rice (Midwood HS) and I have taken Al's great product and added our own flare. We have begun to update the website, we have formed a great partnership with Reebok (each athlete is custom fitted with a FREE pair of training shoes, as well as other giveaways) and for the second time this coming summer we will be running a camp in early July at 7,000 feet in Flagstaff, Arizona.
AT: Just to follow up, how important have these cross country camps become in the development of young runners?
BS: I believe the camp provide for the kids what I was provided as a developing athlete than as a young coach. I was fortunate to be surrounded by great people who had a passion for the sport. I became a sponge. My HS coach Harry Schneider (Centereach HS), is to this day the most positive man I have ever met, Lou Vasquez (Bishop Ford) did incredible things with kids, Al Berkowsky (JFK Bellmore and TRS), the man believes in the little things and preaches the sport, Paul Limmer coached both guys and girls the same way (with incredible results), I could go on forever. I received encouragement and advice from some of the best in the sport and have been able to blend it together and create my own style. I hope our camps can provide kids (and now adults) the opportunity to be exposed to all different techniques, philosophies and people and give the campers the same charge I get every day from my athletes.
AT: One of the moments I’ll always remember when I see a Syosset jersey is your team breaking the national record in the boys 4x800 at the Armory at the National Scholastic Indoor Nationals. What do you remember about that race?
BS: My memory is very clear!! I have been to the Armory thousands of times for meets, practices and I even remember years ago when Sean and I slept on the high jump mats between a Saturday and Sunday officiating at the Loughlin Games, and I never heard it so loud and filled with energy. I was upstairs by myself watching the race unfold. It was only two weeks before when we ran well at Virginia Tech with an alternate that I started to think we could run fast. (Here is where Lou Vasquez takes credit for convincing me to run the race, the night before we placed 3rd in the LI 4x400 that was held at the Millrose Games. The week before the record race though in the pool at Syosset HS on the white board I wrote down the Long Island and Armory records. Both were within our reach!! My real goal for the race was to win (which as we know was not a foregone conclusion til Dan Tully's last steps, but in the true spirit of the sport I wanted us to set the armory record so I could replace my good friend and mentor Steve Perks John Jay teams little placard on the new record board hanging in the Armory. Little did we dream about beating Coach Newton's record. (One of my fond post race memories is receiving a call from Coach Newton congratulating us on breaking the record. He has been a regular guest at The Running School.) The ultimate compliment was the next March when he set up a race to try to reclaim the record!!
As for the kids that broke the record, they are all seniors on track to graduate on time. Leadoff man Adam Lampert is studying business at University of Maryland, I seem him every year, he was a racer (and loathed the training)and did not continue to run in college. Chris Howell (who's 3 second PR set up the record), has battled injury throughout college, but still plays a key role for the Quakers of UPenn. Sean Tully has been a college All-American at Villanova and run 2:23 for the 1000 Indoors and will chase the 4:00 barrier for the mile this spring. Dan Tully, also runs for Villanova and has had some spectacular Penn Relays carrying the baton for the Wildcats. They still smile at me every day as I pass the showcase that houses the Penn relays Championship of America plaque and National Championship certificates.
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