There has been the occasional moment when Jacob Ireland has played the "what if" game in regards to his high school running career.
Ireland, 18, runs for The Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy in the Bronx, a small private school with a small cross country roster. While the senior has certainly acquitted himself well running for the Tigers, there has been a time or two when he wondered what it would be like to run for one of New York's cross country powerhouses.
Those moments, however, were fleeting and just a bit of teenage daydreaming. He's quite happy where he is, having established himself as one of the best runners in New York City despite running for a fledgling program that continues to exhibit growing pains.
"I've thought of it in the sense that I have imagined what it would have been like if I had started off at a bigger school," Ireland said. "I was never tempted to transfer to another school, though. I just push myself and work hard with my team. If we had a much better team, maybe I'd run a bit faster here or there but it won't make or break my high school running career. I never considered transferring to a bigger or better [running] high school, though."
Perhaps having Ireland will put RKA, whose program is only six years old, on the cross country map and someday lead to them being one of those powerhouses. He added to an already impressive 2019 resume on Nov. 9 when he captured the PSAL New York City Championship at Van Cortland Park in a personal best time of 15:57.63 on the 5,000-meter course.
That victory came on the heels of a big month of October in which he earned the PSAL Borough Championship (16:18.50) at Van Cortland and a victory in the Varsity B Race at the Manhattan Invitational. He ran a personal-best time of 12:52.70 on the 4,000-meter course at Van Cortland.
Ireland has run seven races, collecting six victories and one second-place finish. His other three wins came in the Section 1 Coaches Invitational, The Bob Pratt Invitational and The Six Flags Wild Safari Invitational.
He's been a foundational runner for a program that hasn't always had the easiest time putting together a team.
"It's a pretty small school and the roster has never been very big," Ireland said. "Running is not a super popular sport at my high school like basketball and girls volleyball. You have to go out of your way to recruit people.
"It [being a poster boy for the team] is tough. The past few years I have been successful and so has the team; it's just not easy to get them to come out and do it with us. No one wants to try it."
One of the issues the team has is funding. The school only supplies funding for County races. Entry fees to invitational meets, bus fare and equipment purchases all fall on the team.
One of the ways the team has attempted to raise money is through a GOFUNDME page set up by Ireland in September. The following is an excerpt from the request Ireland posted:
"With any extra money, we wouldn't have to worry about hoping we'll be able to get a bus rather than ask every parent to carpool. We'd be able to focus on our most important goal: to make states. We appreciate the smallest donation, after all: size isn't everything. Thank you."
"The idea popped into my head," said Ireland, who qualified for the State Federation meet as a freshman. "I never had one [a GoFundMe page]. So I thought let's make one and see what happens. Coach [Devin Walsh] pays for a lot of stuff out of pocket and we raise money to pay him back." GoFundMe Link Here
While the page hasn't generated any donations yet, that "can do, try anything" attitude has certainly served Ireland well. Despite having parents who were both collegiate runners at Georgetown- his father, Dan, is also the current track and field director at Columbia University - Ireland didn't begin running cross country until he was in high school.
He had played baseball every spring and his parents never pushed him to run. But by the time middle school was drawing to a close, he knew he wanted to run, and once he did he excelled.
"In the back of my mind I remember that my mom was a good runner and I know all my dad's PRs," said Ireland, who has applied for early admission to Columbia. "They want me to do well but they never push me to hit a certain time or tell me you have to do this. They haven't made it hard on me at all. My dad says he knows I can run well and as long as I put in the work, they will be happy with the outcome."
Dan Ireland helps plan some of his son's workouts, allowing him to do some work independently. While it benefits the younger Ireland individually, he points out that it also works out better for the team if he is running well.
"It pushes the team," Jacob Ireland said. "So we've been able to figure it out pretty well."