For many, the thought of becoming a professional in the Track and Field sphere starts and ends with "Professional Athlete." In a new monthly series, MileSplit NY will be shining light on the broad spectrum of possibilities our sport provides, outside of competing as an athlete. We'll be meeting New Yorkers who have made their way in the sport, utilizing their own unique strengths, to bring the sport to the high level it sits at in the Empire State. Check out prior entries here.
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That Dennis Kornfield is one of the most recognizable faces - and voices - in the track and field community across downstate New York and Long Island is undeniable.
He's been the boys track coach at Uniondale High for nearly 40 years. He's also been the voice of track for many, serving as the public address announcer at The Armory in Manhattan for nearly as long.
Yet, for someone who has forged such a prominent place on the local track scene - he's in The Armory's Coaches Hall of Fame, after all - there was a time that track and field wasn't even on Kornfield's radar. He grew up playing baseball and basketball in Hempstead, Long Island. Admittedly, the only running he did was when he was stealing bases or flying up and down the basketball court.
"I was a baseball player, that was my big sport," said Kornfield, 77, who grew up during New York's golden age of baseball in the 1950s. "I was fast, too. I stole a lot of bases."
Neither baseball nor basketball figured to play a part in his future, though, as he attended Brooklyn College, from where he graduated in 1964. Kornfield studied to be a pharmacist and began a career working at his father's pharmacy. However, his love of sports and his desire to coach only grew stronger. The decision to finally switch careers was made easier after he was robbed at gunpoint while working in the pharmacy. A move to teaching followed shortly thereafter.
"I went into teaching to coach," Kornfield said. "I enjoyed coaching so much. I became a science teacher and started teaching in 1966. I have been part of the Uniondale schools for 53 years. I hold the record for being the longest employee in the district in terms of years and I still love coaching."
Kornfield was offered the position of cross country coach in 1967 and later became the boys' junior varsity basketball coach, a position he held until the early 1980s. Though he harbored dreams of one day becoming the boys varsity basketball coach at Uniondale, those dreams were never realized.
"They needed someone to coach track in the junior high so I took it thinking it would help me get the varsity basketball job. [Long-time Uniondale track coach] Al Krauser was leaving after 1982 and I had worked with Al for one year. I didn't want to do track. But the athletic director said we want you to coach.
"We had and undefeated [basketball] season in 1982. I said I was willing to coach in the spring but I didn't want to give up basketball. The next winter, they wanted me to keep the continuity going and wanted me to stay with track. It's a good thing I stuck with it because the varsity basketball coach didn't leave until 1997. Meanwhile, we have won county championship after county championship."
Though reluctant at first, it didn't take Kornfield long to realize how wonderful coaching track could be. He walked into Madison Square Garden for his first Millrose Games that winter and he was hooked. Kornfield's teams have won 48 Nassau County championships since and he shows no signs of retiring any time soon, pointing out that he'd like to reach 50 county crowns.
Kornfield has no plans to give up his position as announcer at The Armory, either, as he pursues his coaching goal. He has gone on to call state meets, do indoor and outdoor play-by-play, call college meets and national events all while continuing to coach successfully.
"On the day of a meet, I can't do much," said Kornfield, who moved from teaching to a position as dean of discipline in 1982. "You can't call a timeout in track. It's very easy to talk before and after a race. But during a race, no one can hear if you're yelling to them so there is very little to do.
"It's worked out well. The key is to have good assistant coaches. And the kids probably like me not being in their ears. I haven't missed a step I don't think."
You can hear Kornfield calling the play-by-play at the Eddy Games in Schenectady
As if announcing and coaching weren't enough to keep Kornfield busy, he also works for the New York Jets during the fall as a member of the game-day chain gang on the field, a position he has held since 1985. A friend with whom Kornfield taught had been working on the chain gang since the Jets were the Titans in the early 1960s. When an opening popped up on the chains, he asked Kornfield if he was interested.
Kornfield didn't hesitate. He has no interest in walking away from that job, either.
"How do you give up being on the sideline with the Jets?" Kornfield said.
If you're Dennis Kornfield, you don't.
Dennis (left) alongside colleague and fellow Race Caller Ian Brooks (right)