Notes: PSAL summer camp a boon for city T&F athletes; Ezike on the cusp
John Padula, the track and field coach at Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn, has an enthusiasm for the sport that is contagious. At this summer’s Big Apple Track and Field camp, which ran from July 12 to Aug. 11 at Sheepshead, Padula’s boundless energy was on display, leading Staten Island Susan Wagner boys coach Angelica Iannone to remark: “He must be drinking Red Bulls in the corner or something.”
On average, the camp drew 150 athletes each day, some making the two-hour trek from Staten Island. Padula, a USATF Level II-certified coach in the sprints and hurdles, worked with sprinters, hurdlers, and jumpers. Iannone, a former Division I thrower and coach, took the throwers. Wagner College head track and field coach Joe Stasi trained the distance runners.
“Our focus has always been on injury prevention for the sprinters and on mileage-building for the distance athletes,” said Padula, whose team won its first indoor PSAL city title last winter. “We have a world-class weight room at Sheepshead Bay. We do a lot of weight training. We see if they have any muscle deficiencies so that they can stay healthy throughout the year.”
For Sheepshead hurdler Jose Farley, Jr., Big Apple was a proving ground. As a sophomore, Farley finished second at the PSAL Cities in the 110-meter hurdles. He missed the indoor and outdoor track seasons as a junior after tearing his ACL playing football, but has rebounded strongly.
“It definitely gave me the confidence because I didn’t really know where I was,” said Farley, Jr., who ran 7.5 in a 55-meter hurdle time trial at the camp. “Once he started reading off times, I was like, ‘Wow!’”
Medgar Evers junior Kennedy Alexis entered the camp with little knowledge of the sprint hurdles. She left confident in her abilities.
“(Padula) helped me with my form, he helped me with my speed,” said Alexis. “And he gave me the confidence to believe that I could do better. In the long run, I did.”
Iannone, now in her fifth year with the camp, has seen her own athletes benefit from exposure to new things.
“Coach Padula’s knowledge of the hurdles is pretty intensive,” said Iannone. “In all honesty, I have some of my guys go to his program and one of the reasons is, I can only take you so far (in the hurdles).”
Ben Ezike, Susan Wagner
Ben Ezike, a senior jumper from Susan Wagner, seems to be on the cusp of great things. Ezike’s third-place finish in the triple jump (46-1.25) at the PSAL City Championships on June 5, signaled an important breakthrough. This summer he attended the Big Apple camp, and began training with Richard Carlin of the Armory Prep program, who helped fellow PSALers Rolyce Boston and Shane Green, the 2011 outdoor State Federation champions in the long and triple jump.
“Rolyce Boston was a fantastic athlete,” said Carlin of the Pan Am Junior Games bronze medalist in the long jump. “He was able to understand some of the things he was doing. I see some of the same things in Benjamin.”
Ezike received pointers from Boston at Big Apple this summer. Padula worked with Ezike on his core strength and hip flexibility.
“My coach always told me to come out (to Big Apple) but I had football,” said Ezike, who plays running back and wide receiver on the Wagner football team. “What made me go is what I want to be.”
Ezike has his eye on the PSAL indoor triple jump record of 49-9, set by South Shore’s Dima Piterman in 1982.
His brother, Saidu Ezike, a former Port Richmond and Cornell hurdler, holds the PSAL 110-meter hurdle record of 13.73.
“He’s becoming stronger, more explosive, and he’s dedicated,” said Iannone of Ezike. “So that’s a dangerous combination for other people.”
When Iannone joined Susan Wagner’s track and field program in 2007, she had already logged considerable miles in the sport. A former All-American hammer thrower at Lincoln High School in Rhode Island, Iannone mainly threw the discus and hammer at Wagner College on Staten Island. Later, she did post-graduate work at Florida St. and threw under renowned coach Harlis Meaders.
“It was intense, it was exciting,” said Iannone. “He truly cared about his athletes. He does that with all of his athletes.”
After nearly qualifying for the National Championships in the hammer throw at F.S.U., she became a college coach. Three years as a throws/strength and conditioning coach followed, two at Wagner Colllege and one at Millersville (Pa.) University. Then Iannone took a job as a physics teacher and track coach at Susan Wagner.
“We started out with eight kids,” said Iannone, who became the head coach of the boys team in 2008 after coaching the girls her first year. “When I first started out (as an athlete), I wasn’t very good. I wanted to instill that dedication and work ethic, even if you don’t see the result right away.”
Since then, Iannone has helped Susan Wagner to four straight Staten Island PSAL championships.
“For the most part, it’s taking kids that weren’t athletic,” said Iannone. “(Now) they’re proud to be athletic.”
Iannone is passionate about the throws and is a huge advocate of the hammer throw. She feels that New York City should be producing dozens of quality throwers and that young women, in particular, stand to benefit from the sport with the number of scholarships available.
“It’s not promoted in New York to become a thrower,” said Iannone. “It’s really sad because you’ve got a lot of sprinters in New York City, and everyone knows that the best sprinters become the best throwers.
“How many places in Staten Island have a legit discus cage? How many places in Brooklyn have a legit discus cage? We’re not giving these girls in New York City these opportunities.”