Junior Jordan Lewis (center), Port Chester High School’s fastest runner since the eighth grade, lost to Jermaine Jones of Lourdes High School by five-tenths of a second in the 55-meter sprint at the Track & Field state championships qualifying meet at the 168th St. Regiment Armory in New York City on Feb. 24.
Courtesy of Memorable Moments Photography
Junior Jordan Lewis (center), Port Chester High School’s fastest runner since the eighth grade, lost to Jermaine Jones of Lourdes High School by five-tenths of a second in the 55-meter sprint at the Track & Field state championships qualifying meet at the 168th St. Regiment Armory in New York City on Feb. 24. Courtesy of Memorable Moments Photography

It is the moment when time stands still. The left knee is bent, the right leg is prone and stretched back, the body is stiff yet ready to uncoil in the classic sprinter's starting position with the ears tuned to the inflection of the starter's voice as he says: "On your mark." The body starts to rise slowly, almost vertical. "Get set," the starter says. And the body freezes, tenses, waiting for the "Go" signaled by the starter's gun going off. And then it all goes by in a blur, legs pumping, arms swinging, eyes straight ahead, focusing on holding form while trying to stay oblivious to the runners racing to the left and right until the finish line goes by and there is no refuting the time it took to get there because the watch doesn't lie. And the difference between winning and losing is measured in tenths of a second.

For Port Chester Rams junior Jordan Lewis, the football running back who has been the school's fastest runner since the eighth grade, five-tenths of a second separated him from Jermaine Jones of Lourdes High, that difference coming down to a slight hesitation at the start, a slight lean at the finish of the 55-meter sprint, and that was all it took for not keeping up with the Jones boy in the fall/winter Track & Field state championships qualifying meet on a recent Friday (2/24) at the New Balance 168th St. Regiment Armory in New York City.

No keeping up with Jones

The end result was that Jones finished first in 6.46 seconds to qualify for the state championships on Saturday, Mar. 4 at the new world-class Ocean Breeze indoor T&F facility on Staten Island. And Lewis didn't despite running 6.92, that difference spanning the unbridgeable gap between taking the ferry past the Statue of Liberty on the way to Staten Island to race against the best-of-the-best and staying home.

But Lewis still has another year to give the qualifying meet a go.

Sophomore Ayenaliz (Nani) Velasquez, the Lady Rams’ fastest sprinter, now has two years left to make it to the states because her steps were slightly off and her speed not quite fast enough to launch her beyond her best long jump of 13'11”, five feet behind Kiana of New Rochelle H.S., the first place finisher, and about the same distance behind Jazmin (Jaz) Acosta's Port Chester long jump school record.

End of the line

For senior Juan (Jack) Novoa there is no tomorrow because he failed to reach the qualifying height, not entirely surprising since Port Chester has no indoor high jump practice facilities. Yet Novoa, also a top hurdler, managed to soar to 5'6" several times during the regular season, nine inches short of the winning qualifying jump of 6'3" and six inches below the P.C. best, a six-foot leap shared by a talented trio of Dan Payne, Lennie Quezada and Declan Josephson, all of whom cleared 6 feet for the Rams’ 2003 league championship team.

But as a further insight into how the lack of indoor field event training facilities hurts an athlete like Novoa, Scarsdale's Kendall Bensche won the girls' high jump in the state and federation championships at Ocean Breeze with a leap of 5'6'' which equals Novoa's best.

Yet even in failing to qualify for the states, that local trio of Lewis, Velasquez and Novoa accomplished a rarity in P.C. T&F circles because only three of their predecessors ever made it all the way to the states during coach Nick Mancuso's 21-year tenure as T&F mentor: the brother and sister sprint team of Matt and Lindsey Corbetta qualified in the 55 meters in 2002 and 2005, respectively, with Lindsey also qualifying in the long jump on her final leap.

All that Jaz

The only P.C. T&F athlete who ever scored in the state meet was Acosta, the soccer sensation and ace sprinter, who placed sixth in the fall/winter state indoor long jump and fourth in the same event outdoors, breaking Corbetta's school record both times while making the All-State team in both instances.

Mancuso hopes there are better days ahead once the outdoor T&F season starts Monday (Mar. 13). And that is a virtual certainty because junior football and basketball sensation Shawn Blackburn is expected to come out for the team, adding another speedy leg to an already fast Ram sprint relay team in the 4x100 meters and 4x200, giving the Rams a very real shot at qualifying for the states as well as winning a tourney title or three.

But that also means something and someone has to give because with Lewis and Blackburn virtually certain to run the fastest legs on the sprint relays, there will only be two other places available on that potential championship relay and that, in turn, means time trials for the other sprinters vying to make the team, all within a fraction of a second of one other.

The odd men out

As an example, sprinters Dennis Almeida, a senior, and junior soccer scoring ace Selvin Estrada ran 7.1 and 7.2 for the 55 meters, respectively, in the sectional qualifiers and came back to run speedy legs on the same day in the 4x200-meter relay, clocking 25.3 and 27.9, respectively, on a starting team that also included freshman Joe Tapia (25 seconds flat) and sophomore Brandon Mejia (25.7). That added up to a solid time of 1:42, but two of those runners will most likely not wind up on a team that figures to feature Lewis and Blackburn as the runners with the fastest splits outdoors.

Somebody has to be the odd man out. And only time will tell who that will be.

As for the Lady Rams, Amanda Andreoli may yet push Velasquez, her sophomore training partner, to greater heights and faster times, and All-League soccer defensive ace Kiara Reyes, a junior, and senior Christina Chumpitazi figure to run a lot faster alongside of them on the sprint relays in warmer weather outdoors. Novoa may really come into his own during his final go around with the change in weather giving him more time to practice in the field events.

Whatever happens, the more things change outdoors, the more they remain the same indoors, at least as far as Westchester County T&F is concerned, and that is a pet peeve for Mancuso, the Rams’ long-suffering T&F coach.

Richer yet poorer

"Westchester, one of the richest counties in America, still doesn't have an indoor Track & Field facility, so for Port Chester and other area schools, we have to travel into NYC for major meets at the Armory and now even Staten Island has its own major indoor facility in Ocean Breeze," he said. "Maybe Westchester will have its own indoor Track & Field facility before I retire, but somehow I doubt that will ever happen."

In the interim, the Rams and Lady Rams T&F team practices indoors running through the halls of the high school during the winter months with virtually no field event facilities at their disposal, an ongoing situation that puts them at a disadvantage against schools such as Harrison, Rye and Scarsdale that have better indoor facilities.

So, all in all, you have to admire the P.C. indoor T&F team for braving the at least two-hour roundtrip to the Armory in NYC to compete in winter meets that tend to run around eight hours overall when the events they compete in, including trials and qualifying heats, may last under three minutes. And it takes even longer to make it to Staten Island. No wonder the P.C. T&F team looks forward to the outdoor season.