Consistency is hard to come by in track and field. With a talent pool that rotates in-and-out of high school on a four-year basis, maintaining excellence for a prolonged period of time can best be tracked to the coaching staff, rather than a singular standout group of athletes. Across New York state, there are particular programs who find themselves on a significant streak, a testament to a training plan put into action year-over-year. In this series, we'll examine some of the best single-discipline streaks, past or present, that have ruled the Empire State.
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It was 1997 when senior athlete Mike Potter was ready to graduate high school, and move on from Warwick Valley. Well, it only lasted two years, and then Potter was back as a volunteer coach in 1999, eventually taking over the Indoor Program in 2003, and then Outdoors as well in 2006, with the retirement of Tim St. Lawrence. No coincidence, a new tradition was beginning during those same transitional years.
For sixteen straight years, Warwick Valley broke 8-minutes for the 4x800m Outdoors. That streak stands at 15 years straight indoors, with a slight hiccup. In 2010, when Indoor Nationals was held in Boston, a dropped baton or two cost them a DQ after they still managed to cross the line in 7:44. Their best time prior was 8:12.99 (we didn't hold it against them).
During that streak, they nabbed five Indoor State Titles in the event, and twice Outdoors. They were Penn Relays Champs in 2011, and National Champs both Indoors and Out in 2006. The accolades were flowing. But while the overall marks may tell one story, the true message is in the delivery of those times. In the stretch of four years, 2006 through 2009, all four Season Bests were set with a collection of 16 different athletes, none repeating in independent years. At their strongest in 2006, their 11th man was running 2:01.1 in the open 800m. Even more impressive was that Warwick has never fielded a relay split faster than 1:51.4, a testament to the even spread of talent across the foursome.
"We run for each other in all of our relays. Our teams back in the early 2000's set the standard. They helped raise the bar in this relay and the tradition has carried on," Potter recalled. "Once you put "Zeus" in your hands, all things are possible. Zeus is how we refer to as our baton, the All-Mighty Powerful! Our athletes know our history and want to measure up to the best of their abilities, but we still like to have fun."
This tradition has led to a 15-Year Average of 7:55.61 for the Indoor 4x800m, and a 16-Year Average of 7:47.28 for the Outdoor 4x800m. It's been an impressive run. The streak ended in 2019, and then was further sidelined when COVID struck. But the mentality is still there, and a young group of guys are hungry to return.
With some of the strongest depth in the event in all of the US, you might think it would be hard to choose who gets a coveted spot.
"Trying to decide who makes the A-team at the end of the season comes down to knowing your athletes both physically and mentally. Weighing who can handle certain situations, certain pressures, who are your reliables, your the kickers and then your gamers," Potter explained. "This takes time, sometimes years to find out. Sometimes you get it right, and sometimes you get it wrong but that's the great sport of track & field in a nutshell; fail fast, fail often, adapt. Keep the athletes believing."
The ability to make kids believe is the key to the success of the program. They are 11-times an All-American 4x800m relay squad, with a school record set by Michael Mark in 2006, a 1:50.9 hand-time from their home facility. For a team of athletes running 7:36, that's an average mark of 1:54 per athlete. Most teams search for just a single athlete to hit that benchmark. But at Warwick, the rising tide lifts all boats, and the team improves as one.
You can check out the full breakdown of the Warwick Boys 4x800m streak below.